Tuesday, 16 October 2018

'Hero' is getting a girlfriend

'Hero' is the name of the little chap who sits on my desk and who acts as a bit of a Muse for me. I blogged about him ages ago. He usually sits on the thirty-minute sand timer I have on my desk, though occasionally, he gets moved about. Most of the time he's brandishing a sword.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons, but mostly just because I like it, I've bought the female version. She too comes with some spare hands (and feet) and a selection of accessories. Her accessories lie more in the guns, knives, daggers, and more guns area than the laptop, book and pen section of Hero's box of tricks.

Hero's box of hands and accessories
(no, not creepy AT ALL)

Picture of the accessories for the girlfriend, from the website I ordered her from
(Hero may have met his match here...)

Why do I want to have them on my desk? To be honest, I just like Hero there, and I'm also getting back into sketching (which is, after all, the original purpose of the figures - as artists' models), so having two figures is useful. But actually, a lot of the time, I just chat to him. Or his presence reminds me that I should be writing, not browsing through Twitter or Facebook! Occasionally, I set him up as a Muse for a scene I'm writing (swords definitely handy here) to help with description and to prompt my imagination.

Anyway, he must be working as I'm already almost 20k words into the first draft of the new book! Maybe more on that, next week!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

I've finished the first draft!

Phew! This draft of "book 7" (actual working title is "Aeron Returns") is finished! This is the middle book of a fantasy trilogy that I've been working on, on and off, since 2014.

Of course, just because I have a first draft doesn't mean the book is finished. No, I still have work to do on it, but the skeleton is all sorted and most of the muscle and sinew is there. I still need to do more editing before it goes off to beta readers, and another heap of edits, polishes and a proof-read when it comes back from them and the professional editor, but the hardest edit is done.

For me, the writing process runs a bit like this:
Have an idea
Write loads of notes about the idea and come up with a germ of a plot
Plan out the plot
||: Write
Change/tweak the plot :||
  → Come up with a zero draft
Go back through zero draft and sort it all out until I have a decent first draft
Go through it again and sort out all the over-used words and the craply written bits
Send it out to beta readers
Fix the issues they come up with
Send it to a professional editor
Fix the bits they say are wrong
The zero draft of this book was what I had at the start of September. I was coming back to this book after a long time away from it and I thought it would take me forever to get it from tangled spaghetti to first draft. I always find this is the hardest edit to do, but also the most satisfying one. Just over a month ago, I thought I might never untangle it and whip it all into shape and wrote "Help! Please send chocolate!"

But, these characters have been talking to me and telling me their stories for years now. I see so much of their lives that have nothing to do with the book (and sometimes write them down in a separate file, just to get it out of my head). I spend all day (and sometimes night) with them. Getting their stories to make sense is enormously satisfying! Some characters have had more time in the spotlight, some less. Some have died and some been saved. Things I'd been struggling with dropped into place. It's been a tough few weeks, but, boy have I been enjoying it.

Anyway, next for this is to put it aside for a while, before finding and killing all the crutch words and the bits that are crap. What will I work on while this is 'resting'? Planning the final part of the trilogy, of course!

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Tuesday, 2 October 2018


I love doing research for my books. There's always a slight worry that my Google searches look very dodgy, but on the whole, I absolutely love doing the background work for my books. This could be general research (like my scrapbooks - looking for the perfect location for a book, or images of people for characters etc) or it can be more of the nitty-gritty (what is the exact wording of a police caution?).

I've seen a couple of posts recently about writers using mood boards (see here and here for a couple of examples). In essence, the scrapbooks I make are like mood boards, with pictures pasted in and notes scribbled all over them (I wrote here about my scrapbooks). I sometimes keep electronic versions using OneNote, but not as commonly as I have physical versions. I've found that printing things off, either on to A4 printer paper or on to sticker sheets and sticking them into my notebooks works the best for me.

That kind of research all happens near the start of a book. What I've been researching recently has been a combination of of fine details about things (sunrise and sunset times on particular dates; castles in Cumbria; geology of various rocks), and looking for images of long leather coats for men that you could conceal a sword under (that don't look like either the Gestapo coats from 'Allo 'Allo, or something from The Matrix). Today's slightly random search was for "blank autopsy body diagrams". A couple of weeks ago it was "sociopolitical repercussions of Spanish flu" & "what colour boxes are used for paper recycling in Cumbria?"

Every day is a school day...

What's everyone else been up to recently?

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Bloody Scotland 2018

Bloody Scotland just gets bigger and better!! I only made it over to Stirling for one day - the Saturday - but the whole town was buzzing and full of crime writers and crime readers. If you haven't yet been up to Stirling for this festival, what's stopping you? The events are amazing, the venues are brilliant and the atmosphere is incredible. The only downside I can see, is that my To Be Read pile is now even bigger and I will probably have to live until I'm a hundred to ever get through it all!

I was delighted to be able to catch up with some old friends and to make some new ones. It made me realise just how far I've come since I was one of the Crime in the Spotlight speakers, two years ago. Then, I knew almost no one in the huge, welcoming crime-writing family that exists. I made some good friends in the twelve "Spotlighters" and as a consequence of meeting them, have met many more fantastic, warm, helpful, supportive people - writers, book bloggers, friends of friends who neither write nor blog nor have anything to do with crime-writing beyond reading it. All have been absolutely amazing. And none of it would have happened without Bloody Scotland!

Short post (Sorry! Life is ridiculously busy at the moment), but I just wanted to say how brilliant Bloody Scotland is and how grateful I am for the amazing friendships that have spun off from it.

Hopefully see you all there next year!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Further update on "Who Gives a Crap"

Last week, I reviewed the loo rolls by Who Gives A Crap and said that I'd also bought tissues and kitchen rolls. I was disappointed by the plastic strapping that bound the carton of tissues and carton of kitchen roll together, and also that there was a plastic film in the top of the box of tissues.

I contacted WGAC about it and this was their reply:
We use what's called oxo-biodegradable plastic on the top of our tissue boxes in order to keep them secure and dry. This oxo-bio plastic breaks down much faster and will degrade in the presence of oxygen and sunlight (depending on the local conditions, 12-24 months vs 1000 years for regular plastic!). You can even test it out in your yard! We know it's not the ultimate solution, however it's something that is slightly better when having to go a limited plastic route.

As for the strappings.... urgh!!
We avoid using plastic wherever we can, but when shipping multiple parcels we strap them together so that 1) we (and the customer) are only charged 1 shipping fee for the package, and 2) there's no risk of the packages becoming separated in transit and the driver having to make two deliveries to the same address for the one order (also not good from an environmental perspective).
We're researching more sustainable strapping materials-- and we *have* tested paper strapping, but it hasn't been strong enough, and just breaks in transit. We need something that works with commercial strapping machines so the options are limited, but it's a priority of ours that we are continuously searching for a solution.

Some suggestions: There may be dedicated recycling centres you can find that will take them off your hands or you can work your magic in upcycling them into something unique (heaps of ideas on Pinterest)!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Update on "Who Gives a Crap"

Who Gives A Crap loo rolls
A few weeks ago, I said that I'd bought some recycled paper loo rolls from the company Who Gives A Crap, but that I hadn't yet tried them. Well, now we have tried them, and I've bought some tissues and kitchen roll from them too, so it's time for an update.

We went for the bog-standard (pun intended) loo rolls made of recycled paper. There is a luxury option made with bamboo which is probably softer. I had had reservations about the use of bamboo, knowing that processing it to make fibres for clothes isn't great, ecologically, but after a long discussion with them via email, it would seem that processing the plant to make 'paper' is far less environmentally damaging and that there is little waste or chemical use. We may go for the luxury version in the future, but to be honest, the standard paper version is fine.

Each roll comes wrapped in paper to protect it, which has lower waste impact than if the rolls were bundled together, as the paper used for wrapping can be thinner than if multiple rolls were wrapped together. The paper is quite pretty (and they currently have a version that you can colour in yourself if you want) and I will probably use it to decorate plain notebooks or do origami or something. Or just recycle it. They look fairly pretty stacked on the cistern, anyway!

The loo paper itself is made of three very thin layers, but the fact there are three of them makes it strong. There are 400 sheets per roll, so each roll does last longer than a normal roll. I did the maths on it all and the price per square metre was pretty much the same as the loo rolls we had been buying from the supermarket, but they were wrapped in plastic and those companies didn't donate half their profits to charities supporting water sanitation.

What's it like to use?

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Help! Please send chocolate!

[Or... "Why I wish I'd realised I was a plotter not a pantser, before I wrote draft zero of this book"!]

How my plot feels at the moment....
I should have known I was a plotter. I've been logical and methodical all my life! But, when I wrote the zero draft of The Trilogy (a few years ago now!) I wrote the story that was in my head. Which was okay as far as it went, but over the years it's changed, and the characters have evolved and some sub-plots have strengthened (and some vanished). And it now feels like I have this amazing picture in my head but just a pile of jigsaw pieces on the table.

Actually, I literally have my plot in pieces on the table, because my dining room table is currently covered in index cards. I have one for each scene and have been trying to get them in order. I have some that will go (that relate to sub-plots that have gone, or which are just not needed any more) and I have quite a lot missing (but I'll do the cards for them once I'm sure they're staying). And yes, of course they are colour-coded for the different sub-plots. 😄

I have a bit of a push-me-pull-me going on when I'm plotting. The major characters are worked on first, with the bare bones of the plot in my head. Once I'm fairly happy with my main characters, the bare bones of the plot get a little firmer. But once I start doing character notes for minor characters, things can get a bit more complicated - some sub-plots become more important, sometimes the main plot gets tweaked. But I usually get all that resolved before I start writing too much.

Not with The Trilogy. I just wrote. And wrote. And now I've sorted out minor character notes and re-drafted what the sub-plots are, it feels a lot like I've got a thousand-piece puzzle in front of me. I know what the overall picture is, I just need to convert the jumble into the neat version.

Right now, it feels overwhelming because I have just over 100,000 words written, but it's not in the right order, and they aren't the right words. Once I have my road-map sorted, the going should get easier. I know what all my key points are, and I (just about, at this point) know what happens in between, to get me from one plot point to the next. I'm also pretty happy with the balance between the different sub-plots and my characters. But, it does feel a little like I'm about to re-write 100,000 words, however much I know a lot of what's written will stay.

So, wish me luck? Oh, and send chocolate...?

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