Month: December 2012

Getting it wrong before getting it right

Mistakes?  Typos?  Missing words?

 

Since publishing ROCK’N’ROLL SUICIDE http://amzn.to/Ufjj4S on Kindle recently, it’s brought home to me how it seems to be next to impossible to correct my own mistakes. I printed out the copy, read it physically on the page, made the corrections, did it all over again.  I did this three times. And still, when I published, seeing it on my kindle screen I still found more mistakes.  So I corrected those and republished.  And guess what?  I’m still finding the odd one, hopefully nothing too drastic, but upsetting enough for me to probably republish again soon.

 

The only answer is to pay for a m/s to be proofread by a professional, and despite being really short of money, that’s what I’m going to do with my next, even though I professionally proofread for publishers.  Sounds crazy, but it’s true. You can’t see your own mistakes.

 

Since I’m busy doing the finishing touches to my next book, prior to sending it to my friend @ProofreadJulia for checking, thought I would post the first part as my blog, in the hope someone might be interested.

 

So here is the first part of my next Jack Lockwood thriller, DOPPELGANGER, due out late January or early February on Amazon, price 77p or 99c:

 

‘Abandon the book Jack, or we’ll kill you. This is your final warning.’

Sean Michael Boyd’s gravel-voiced telephone threats still rang in my ears as I drove through the rainy October darkness of the road through Healey’s Wood. Healey’s looming overhead branches always engendered a cave-like sense of gloom, and, as if this latest threat to my life wasn’t stressful enough, too many late nights and tight deadlines were making my eyelids feel like lead.

So when the woman dashed out in front of my car I couldn’t stop in time. Just felt a jarring thump and I jerked forward as the figure was flung from the bonnet, landing a yard in front of my steaming front tyres. All I could see in my headlight beams was a heap of crumpled clothing in the road, with an out-flung hand and twitching fingers, pointing skywards.

Adrenalin pumping, I opened the door, breathing vaporised tyre and soggy woodland. The figure was moving, thank goodness. At least it looked as if she was still alive.

Reaching across to grab my mobile and switch on the hazard lights. I dialled 999 as I ran around the front of the car.

‘Ambulance. Yes. And police.’ I shouted as I knelt down beside the victim, registering her pain-wracked face, the frantic effort to survive burning in her eyes. The renewed burst of driving rain penetrated my shirt in seconds. ‘It’s Waldegrave Road, just at the start of Healey’s Wood at Crenham, just off the A2 in the direction of Canterbury. I passed a pub called the Saracen’s Head about half a mile back.’

‘Got that, caller, someone’s on their way now.’

The operator’s faraway voice sounded so cool, so unbelievably calm.

‘Look, just get here, please, she’s badly hurt!’

‘Can you tell me what her injuries are?’

‘No. I can’t see. I’m crouched down in the middle of the road, sheltered from oncoming vehicles by my own car! Please, just get here as soon as you can!’

‘And what’s your name please, caller?’

I dropped the phone and reached for the woman’s fingers. I squeezed gently, realising that since her eyes were barely open, she’d have no idea what was happening. She’d just be aware of the rhythmic drumbeat of raindrops, water soaking her skin, and the shoe-half-off-foot that was completely submerged in the roadside puddle. I had to move her, but was it safe?

‘Hang on, you’re okay, ambulance is on its way,’ I tried to reassure her. ‘Just lie still.’

The woman – she appeared to be in her twenties – looked dazed, and there was blood matting her hair, a growing pool that was spreading, the rivulets of crimson merging with the lakes of rain. Had I knocked her backwards so she’d fallen and cracked the back of her head? At least it looked as if she could move her arms and legs. I clung to the knowledge that I hadn’t been speeding, and had almost been able to stop. But if I hadn’t been so dog-tired, could I have halted the car in time?

The light coloured jacket of her trouser suit was torn and stained with mud, the top ripped open at the front. Her chest rose and fell, her breath was heaving ugly gasps.

‘Don’t let him get me!’ she rasped, trying to struggle off the ground. ‘Please don’t let him – ’

‘Don’t worry, you’re safe, please, just try to take it easy. Help is on the way – ’

Where is he?’ She tried to move her head, eyes alive with terror.

‘He’s long gone, you’re okay, I promise. It’s over now, and you’re safe, just try to lie still.’

I stopped talking when I realised she’d stopped breathing.

Frantically, I racked my brains to remember the first-aid course I’d done 20 years ago.

Airway.

I laid her flat, tilted her head upwards and opened her mouth. Kneeling astride her I bent down and closed my lips over hers, pinched the victim’s nose and breathed hard into her lungs, hoping something might happen.

It didn’t.

Chest compressions?

Memories flooded back of a rubber dummy and a lot of badinage while the first-aid instructor tried to tell us what to do, the dummy jerking alarmingly as its chest was depressed by our incompetent fingers. I leaned over the woman’s chest, heel of one hand between the cups of her bra, backed up by the other, fingers interlinked, and pressed hard five times, praying for something to happen.

Nothing.

Mouth-to-mouth once more. I almost choked, practically gagging as I couldn’t avoid swallowing my own blood, reminding me of my injury from earlier in the evening. As I took my lips away to breathe for the fourth time, the woman gave a gulp and a momentary jerk. An indrawn breath. A choking sound.

And all at once I could hear sirens behind us, then slamming doors, running feet.

I made way for the paramedics and watched as they fastened a mask over her face, then fitted a spinal collar, applying a dressing to the back of her head, attaching needles to her wrists, radios alive with chatter, muttering medical gobbledygook to each other. I was vaguely aware of a police car behind them. Hardly realising what I was doing, I automatically scooped up my phone from the ground and put it in my pocket. In between the medics’ frantic ministrations they asked me if I knew her name but I just shook my head, and mumbled that she’d stopped breathing just now and I’d administered CPR.

The police car’s occupants strode slowly across to where I was shivering on my knees. ‘So what’s happened here?’ the nearest one asked me.

There was a lull in the rain at last.

The policeman stared at me.

‘She stumbled out in the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop in time. . .’

‘You’re saying that you’re responsible for her injuries?’

‘She must have been hurt already.’ I dragged myself to my feet, aching with the effort. ‘Her head was bleeding. She said she’d been attacked. I think she must have been running away from someone.’

‘But you ran her over?’

‘I couldn’t help it.’

The copper was frowning at me with controlled menace as he took note of my dishevelled appearance, the scruffy jeans and split-lipped face.

‘Know the victim, do you?’

‘Never seen her before.’

‘Sure about that?’

‘Of course I’m sure.’

‘When we arrived you were kneeling on top of her. Just what you were doing?’

‘Giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And once she came round, I was trying to reassure her.’

‘And you’ve got no idea who she is?’

As I shook my head, I tried to see things from their point of view. Dangerous looking character who’s been leaning across a helpless female who’s obviously been seriously injured. I glanced across to where the paramedics were strapping the woman to a stretcher and wheeling her towards the ambulance. ‘Look, mate,’ I appealed to the officer. ‘I swear I’ve never seen her before, and there was nothing I could do to stop my car in time. I wasn’t even speeding. When I hit her it was a gentle kind of bump, you know? Not a full-on crack, like as if I’d done real damage. At least I hope. . .’

The ambulance was pulling away. I thought back to the gang of Canterbury University students who’d been attacking the man huddled in blankets, a poor old guy who’d been minding his own business, hunched up miserably under the stone canopy of Westgate Towers. I’d intervened, pulling the biggest man away, but before I could retaliate he’d thumped his fist into my face, mashing my lip, while the second youth had punched me in the stomach. Deprived of their easy prey, the trio moved on, leaving me staggering against the ancient stone structure, with an injured mouth, an aching gut and the stares of the bemused rough-sleeper, who was barely aware what had been going on.

My thoughts came back to the present as the other policeman approached, having been examining my car. ‘Do you have any objections to taking a breathalyzer test, sir?’ he asked politely, holding up a rectangular box.

‘N-not at all.’

But right now shock was kicking in big time, making me behave erratically. I was unsteady on my feet. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Light-headedness made me stutter.

And breathing into the breathalyzer wasn’t easy. I tried three times, but the stress of rushing around trying to help the victim meant I was still puffed out, couldn’t breathe deeply enough to be able to give them a good enough sample.

‘Would you mind accompanying us to the station, please sir?’ asked the nearest officer, all narrowed eyes and exaggerated politeness.

‘What about my car?’

‘No one’s moving that until we get a team down here to measure tyre marks and make a proper assessment of the situation.’

I frowned and shook my head. ‘Look, please believe me, I don’t drink and drive, ever!’

‘What’s your name, sir?’

‘Lockwood. Jack Lockwood.’

‘Any identification?’

‘Driving licence is at home, but there’s something in my car.’

I went back to my Land Rover Discovery and climbed inside, with the second policeman standing guard, presumably in case I made a run for it. On the back seat I found the parcel, out of which I extracted a copy of my latest book Diary of a Killer from the batch of author copies that had arrived from the publishers that morning.

As I got into the back of the police car I handed it over to the one who was in the driver’s seat, talking into the car’s radio. He stared at the author picture at the back of the book, then at me, and made no comment. The photo was instantly recognisable, albeit touched up a bit, thanks to a bit of nifty Photoshop tweaking. Blond hair, the break in my nose hardly noticeable, small scar on the chin, self-conscious smile. A female reviewer had once referred to me as having ‘rugged good looks’, but I think she was being generous.

The policeman’s colleague returned and climbed in beside him, slamming the door and scattering droplets. I noticed the beads of water on the newcomer’s sandy eyebrows. Then he found a notebook and pen, leaning across the front seat to talk to me. ‘Right then Mr Lockwood, perhaps you’d like to tell us what happened here?’

‘I was driving along and she suddenly ran out right in front of me. I braked to a stop, thought I felt the front of the car hit her. Then I called the emergency services.’

I could see they didn’t believe a word of it.

‘You say she looked as if she’d been attacked. How badly was she hurt?’

‘Looked serious to me.’ Images were flooding back. ‘There was blood in her hair, as if she’d been hit with something.’

‘You knocked her down?’

‘I couldn’t help it.’

‘Was she able to say anything?’

‘Yes,’ I suddenly remembered with relief. ‘Yes! she said said something like “Don’t let him get me”. She was afraid of someone.’

‘Did you see anyone else around here?’

‘No.’

‘Her words were, Don’t let him get me.’

‘Right.’

* * *

Jack meets Lucy, with whom he begins a passionate affair. Then he discovers that her face is identical to that of child killer Megan Foster, who was imprisoned but released under a secret identity.  Unable to confront her with what he fears, he makes his own enquiries.

Is Lucy the Bible Killer?

Read the book and find out. . .

DOPPELGANGER is due out late January or early February, anyone interested, let me know and I’ll send a message the moment it goes live.

Meanwhile I’m working on the third Jack Lockwood thriller.

Giving it away

I was extremely interested in a tweet by @MarinaDeNadous that I noticed yesterday.  She said that she was shocked by how many authors give away their books, and stated that after seven years of hard work, struggle and effort, she refused to belittle her work.  And interestingly my friend Martin (@johnson_mjj) wrote a blog on exactly the same lines a while ago.

This is what’s so interesting.  We all work extremely hard.  I’m looking forward to Marina’s book(s), haven’t had chance to check them out yet, but the Celestial Sea  http://amzn.to/WgtKFR certainly looks pretty magical to me, and I’m keen to read it.  Likewise I read Martin Johnson’s Neidermayer and Hart, http://amzn.to/UpHxIp and this was a fabulous book too.

I know how long and hard Martin worked on his first book, and how indefatigably he’s continuing with his second, Roadrage, which is due out soon.

But I think it’s all about attitude.  My view is this: the work you, as a writer, have done in creating your book is over.  You’ve done it, it’s past.  After sending my previous books to agents and publishers over the years and getting the brushoff, I’m determined that I don’t want my effort to be wasted, as it has been for all my other books, condemned by faint praise by agents to whom I’m some pathetic hopeful amongst thousands.  I think my book is good, so now I want to get as many people as humanly possible to read the thing, and if that means charging next to nothing or giving it away, fine, I don’t care.  Of course the corollary to this way of thinking is, that if I don’t value my book, no one else is going to, they’ll think it’s just a trashy giveaway, so why bother to download it?  From a monetary point of view, I already charge so little for downloads (99c, or 77p) that the difference between that and nothing isn’t worth bothering with, and I’m doing it for the long haul: my aim is to try and build an audience, so that my second and third books can, with luck, make some money.

Will this strategy work?  I haven’t got a clue.  However the evidence is surprising: I publish with Smashwords and Amazon.  So far I don’t mind admitting that I’ve only sold six on Smashwords, and with this site they allow you to offer it free, which I’ve been doing for a while.  Yet on Amazon, where I’m charging a nominal 99c (77p), I’ve had 25 downloads.  People presumably will always appreciate having something they pay for, even if it’s only a nominal amount.

So on the face of it, maybe Marina and Martin are right: if you judge your work as of little or no value, potential readers will feel the same way.  Worst of all, they might even download it because it’s free, and never bother to read it.

I remember years ago when I sold things at a car boot sale, it was getting late in the day, and I just wanted to get rid of things.  I offered items free, saying to people, just take it.  Guess what?  Nobody did!  Everyone who wanted some item, however paltry, insisted on giving me maybe 50p, as a token.    Much later, when I made dolls’ houses and had an appalling day at a craft fair, trying to sell dolls houses and furniture and failing, a little girl kept coming back to look at the miniature chairs.  She wanted one.  I said ‘have it, no need to pay’, thinking she couldn’t afford the price I’d stated and that why shouldn’t someone have a bit of pleasure in the day, even if, for me, it had been a financial disaster?  The young girl said, no, could she pay 20p, which I accepted, and she happily took away the chair.

Perhaps it’s a matter of dignity.  If you’re selling something to a stranger, they don’t want your charity, accepting something for free. So for the sake of their pride they want to pay you something, however little it may be.  They keep their dignity, they’re not obligated to you.

It would be interesting to know what other people think.  Am I right, so keen to get my book to the world and his wife, that they can have it free?  Or are Martin and Marina the wise ones, making it clear that they value their years of struggle and effort, not to mention their innate talent to write, and have decided to charge accordingly?

John Locke, in his book, says charge a minimal amount – that way you sell more copies and make the same as if you charge more, and sell less.  One piece of philosophy of John’s in his book that sticks in my mind is, words to the effect of:  ‘If I charge a tenth of what a bestselling mainstream author charges, he has to demonstrate that his book is ten times better than mine, not the other way around’.  Wise words.

Maybe neither point of view is correct, and the answer is in between, like so many things in life.  When selling a house or flat, I’m always pragmatic, prepared to lower the price if it doesn’t sell.  I thought the same thing applies to my books.  But the big difference is, a house is something tangible, something you can see, touch or feel, whereas our books aren’t tangible objects, they’re delicate edifices that exist in our minds, built up and honed over hours and hours, then carefully grafted onto the kindle screen.  I want my delicate edifice under people’s eyes in any circumstances, just so that they can like my hero and his adventures, and, at a later stage, I can try and make some money, when people actually know about me and want to buy my books.

I’d love to know what other people think.  I’m wondering, more and more, that giving it away could be a mistake, and that, as Marina says, I’m belittling my effort.

Rock’n’Roll Suicide

Can someone teach you to write?

This is likely to be a controversial blog and I hope I don’t offend anyone. It just seems to me that there’s a proliferation of courses and instruction books on how to write, writing magazines, endless soul-searching about style, how to create characters, grammar, creating a hook, you name it, from all kinds of eminently qualified people.

Frankly, I don’t think you can learn how to write by analysing your work, taking great writers’ efforts apart, reinforcing self doubt, and both congratulating and criticising other people in an attempt to find your own ‘voice’ . What on earth is a ‘voice’ anyway, what does it mean?

I was shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger in 2004, and part of the prize was to receive critiques of the sample of the novel you send from a variety of agents and publishers. One person said my dialogue was good, another said it was bad, one person liked my characters, another didn’t. They all said conflicting things, the most insulting of which was ‘the plot wasn’t quite clever enough’. I concluded that their criticism was inconsistent, that if I took it to heart, I’d never write another word. Admittedly ‘Deadly Contact’ had plenty of faults, but I think I can now see what they are. The point is I saw it myself later, no one showed me.

And this is the nub of it. If you have your work dissected by half a dozen people in a group, some will like it, some won’t, and some will be bored because your chosen genre is not theirs. So you’re going to have aspects of your novel pulled to pieces, when, in fact, those may be the very parts you should leave alone, and the really bad parts stay there, wrecking your masterpiece.

I started writing fiction about 15 years ago. My first book ‘The Sugar Street Knifeman’, (ghastly title!) was absolutely terrible, I can see it now. My second ‘Moving Target’ and third (with another ghastly title) were suitable for landfill too. Part of the reason, I think, was that I was copying writers I liked, thinking I could use the same tricks they did, not realising I couldn’t. Another part of the reason was that I made all the usual early mistakes, repeating myself, overdoing things, making characters too black and white, too much graphic violence and sex.

Here’s an example: Everybody likes Ian Rankin’s books, but, I confess I don’t. So I realise I’m no judge. Don’t get me wrong, as a person, I think Ian Rankin is delightful, friendly, likeable, and endearingly humble for someone so successful. I simply don’t like his hero, but, luckily, lots of other people do. So anyone teaching a crime writing course who loves Ian Rankin’s hero would praise students who produced a similar character, and criticise other types of hero. It would be de rigeur for all the students to have a grumpy disagreeable hero.

The point is, all writing is subjective. I love Dick Francis and Robert Goddard books. I like first person narratives, despite the drawbacks of not being able to see things from other points of view (of course multi narrative viewpoints are another way round this too). Others, such as the wonderful Wilkie Collins, wrote multi viewpoint books, and, for other people, this works very well indeed. Most of my appalling early efforts were third person narratives, and they didn’t work. For me, first person is the best way, but for someone else third person, with the protagonist always in the frame, is best, while others use third person and multi narrative to great effect. You always find what works best for you.

Simon Brett treads that very subtle line between comedy and crime, combining both brilliantly. I’ve heard him speak many times, and he writes warm-hearted humorous novels with good satsfying crime plots. I think he’s so successful because he’s a warm-hearted man with an irrepressible sense of humour. His writing is part of him, and that’s why people like his books. Anyone trying to combine comedy and crime, who wasn’t naturally witty, would inevitably come unstuck.

What I think is, getting critiques from all and sundry is as likely to do as much harm as good. And, if you stick with your novels, you’re likely to see what works and what does not. For me, writing a book is like building an extension to a house (I’ve built a few). At the beginning of the job you can’t envisage it being finished, you just build, brick by brick. At the end, you can’t actually believe you did the whole thing. And it’s the same with a book. You stick with it, even though at times you’re fed up with it, and finally, almost to your surprise, you make it to the end, and hopefully the plot’s worked its way around, and you’ve given yourself (and your readers) some surprises.

I once read a ‘how to’ book on crime writing by an agent, who almost once accepted my work, then changed her mind. One of the authors stressed how you had to plan every chapter in advance before you even begin. I read half of one of his books, and it was so boring I gave up. Another writer gave a talk on how to write, with quite a few useful tips. But, again, I read one of his books and thought it was awful.

And what do all these fancy writers’ terms mean? Plotting? Pace? Narrative voice? Tone? I think it’s all bluff and flannel, a way of burbling on, trying to analyse something which can’t be analysed. Trying to say why you like someone’s writing style is like trying to describe the sensation of smelling new mown grass on a summer’s day, or passing on the mind-numbing terror of a scream in the dark.

To all those writing tutors out there, I apologise, I’m probably wrong, after all what do I know? My only books published conventionally are nonfiction, and I’ve self published my first fiction, so you can say I’m misguided and would benefit from writers’ courses and reading plenty of books on the theory or writing, and perhaps I would. You’re probably right and I am wrong.

I’ve been wrong in my life plenty of times before. . .

Rock’n’Roll Suicide and free now on Smashwords – use coupon: PC67N.

And thanks to my new twitter friends who are helping me so much: @JennieOrbell, @DarciaHelle, @johnson_mjj, @TerryTyler4, @mariasavva, Rachael Hale, Truda Thurai and others. Incidentally, I bought @davepperlmutter ’s book Wrong place wrong time, and it’s rivetting. And David doesn’t even claim to be an experienced writer, just a man relating a true story. What a story it is.

Agents have had the upper hand for a long time

Well I don’t seem to be selling many books, but one interesting thing I’ve discovered about many of the kind people who’ve helped me is how many writers seem to love animals, as I do. Stange how many writers seem to love their dogs and cats. Could it have something to do with the silent communication that exists between an animal and a person? You can see a strange dog, smile at him and he smiles back, he usually wants to be your friend. Cats, of course are usually a bit more reserved, but, then no one can tell them what to do – they are the boss. But cats too communicate with a flick of their tail and a glance in your direction if they like you.

As I say I love cats and dogs, also birds. Am, I alone in loving crows? I think crows are wonderful birds: stately, grand and very beautiful, the way they strut along in their black cloaks.

Enjoyed @JennieOrbell blog, as always, though I must say I avoid shopping like the plague. @DarciaHelle kindly interviewed me as a guest on her blog, due to be published just after Christmas, so that’ll be great. Darcia has been a great help and support, as has @johnson_mjj, @TerryTyler4, @mariasavva, Rachael Hale, Truda Thurai and many others.

I am now reworking the next book in this ‘Jack Lockwood’ series that I actually wrote before my latest, Rock’n’roll Suicide, with the same hero, Jack Lockwood. In this one, Doppelganger, Jack falls in love with a woman whom he’s convinced he has a connection with because he recognises her face, as if he’d had some astonishing connection with her, that goes beyond words, as if their romance was somehow preordained. However, when he discovers that the real season he had the ‘footsteps on my grave’ earth-shattering feeling when he first saw her face, he realises it was because Lucy is the spitting image of a girl who was imprisoned for murder years ago, served her sentence and given a new identity (he once saw her picture in a book). That’s the background, but discovering the truth is a much more complicated affair, tied up as it is with Jack writing an ongoing story about ‘The Bible Killer’ serial murderer who has not yet been caught, and evading the clutches of a powerful criminal whom he has offended. As in Rock’n Roll Suicide, in Doppelganger, there are plenty of twists and thrills, and action. I have been told my hero is knocked around rather too much, but my view is, he’s tough enough to take it!

Another idea I had was to write for kindle small books about house repairs – I used to write for magazines about home repairs, building, DIY and so on. Would ‘Damp, rot, and decay in our home – all you need to know’ be a good seller at 77p? Or even ‘How to build an extension to your house – all you need to know’? I’d be interested to know if anyone thinks this could be a good idea.

I would like to know what agents and publishes think about the self publishing explosion on kindle. Are they likely to rush round to successful authors such as @TerryTyler4 to offer them a book deal? That would seem to make sense to me. Is this how the 50 shades woman got her start? On the other hand, are agents and publishers wary of the development, feeling sidelined? Or looking arrogantly at what they consider to be no-hopers, struggling to be recognised? I remember years ago phoning an agent, being told they weren’t taking on any new authors, then snarling, ‘that’s you settled then!’ and slamming the phone down. Maybe the arrogant attitude of a minority of agents needs pricking. After all, they’ve had the upper hand for a very long time.

So Doppelganger will be on the way soon, will keep you posted.

Rock’n’Roll Suicide http://amzn.to/T9GYVP and http://bit.ly/S74C2E