Tuesday, 1 December 2020

NaNoWriMo... did I manage it??

Back near the start of November, I considered doing NaNoWriMo - where you write 50,000 words of your novel over the 30 days of November. On the day that I posted about it, November was already 10 days old and I was already >1200 words "behind" (working on the 1667 words per day theory), which didn't feel like the most promising start. But as I'd done so much planning before the start of November, I gave it a whirl. I knew that on a good day I would be able to write more than 1667 words, and if I needed to stop and plan more, well, I would stop and plan more. A decade of writing experience told me that if I just turned out 50,000 words without a decent amount of planning, they would be 50,000 of garbage.

Did I manage it? Did I write 50,000 words over November?

YES! By close of play on Saturday (28th) I'd written 50,220 words in November.

Are they 50,220 words of garbage??

Hopefully not!

I didn't do NaNoWriMo officially. I don't have an account with them. I don't have any kind of badge or sticker to 'prove' I did it, but I kept a daily tally for myself, and, being a scientist, I turned it into a graph.


The small blue bars are my daily writing totals. You'll see that on several days, these are zero and on others, they are not as large as 1667. On the other hand, on a lot of days they are far more than 1667.

The orange bars are my cumulative total over the month. The grey bars are the 'goals' - a cumulative 1667 words per day, to give 50,010 over the month (+10 because of the rounding!). If the orange bar is bigger than the grey one, I was 'ahead' and vice versa.

How did I find the whole process?

A combination of stressful and motivating. The pace is relentless. 1667 words a day is okay. Take a day off and that becomes 3334 - an altogether tougher target for me - at least if I want to be able to keep any of the words. Two days off? That can feel like an insurmountable amount to catch up.

By managing more than 1667 words on most days, I put enough slack in the system to be able to take days 'off' - mostly for planning, but also because Life happens and some days it just wasn't possible to sit down and write. If you look closely at the dates, I was 'ahead' of the target by most Fridays and then 'behind' again on Monday.

I was glad to have written as much as I did, but I really need to take stock now. Usually when I'm writing, I take stock every few days, so my writing pace is slower than 50,000/month! Right now, I feel I need to spend about week going through it all, marking up scenes that will probably go, scenes that will change drastically, and creating a list of scenes still to write.

Would I do it again?

Maybe. But only if I'd already started writing a book and had detailed plans of where it was going and what was happening with it. The pace is high and I am genuinely pleased and surprised in equal measure to have written so much in the month. It's showed to me that I can do it. Time will tell in the editing phase as to whether I then feel I should have done it. If I end up taking far longer over turning a first draft into a final manuscript, then the process is not worth it.

Will I finish the first draft of this book by the end of 2020? That was my goal. Last month I wasn't so sure. This month? Maybe. The draft is currently just over 60,000 words. I'm aiming for a first draft of ~70,000, but I will need to stop, take stock and do some more planning before those 10,000 get written. I'd like to think I will have done the draft before book #9 reappears on my desk at the end of December!



Tuesday, 24 November 2020

When NOT finishing a scene is the right thing to do...

Now, I don't mean this for the finished product! I once read a book that had "Make a better ending than this" at the end of a chapter, which presumably had been a note the author had left themselves in the drafting stage and never actually done anything about it (the whole book was fairly ropey to be honest).

No, I mean during the writing of the first draft, it can be the right thing for me to NOT finish a scene.

Why?

I can only speak for myself, but during a first draft, the aim (for me) is to get the majority of the story down in a semi-decent way. I'm mostly a planner, and so I have the majority of the key scenes mapped out before I start to write. Admittedly, these often change and there are organic changes to the plot, but the bare bones of the book are mapped out.

Some days, the words can flow and flow and I can see the whole scene - beginning, middle and end - as clear as day. Other days, it flows a bit more like treacle, and I'm not sure where a scene is going or how it's going to end. When that happens, I stick a note to myself, in block capitals, at the end of the scene. These notes can range from: STILL TO FINISH to BLEUGH! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE! When I reach that point, I know there's no point keeping on writing. I leave the scene alone and start on another scene that I can see more clearly. The idea is that I go back to those scenes and finish them off on another day, when my brain has been processing things and has come up with an ending!

Right now, I'm about 70% through the first draft of book #10. The crux of the plot has stayed fairly constant, but some of the details have changed since I started the first few scenes. Those first few scenes were like pulling teeth and after all of the scenes between the main character and one other character, I ran into the sand. I put notes on them (mostly more the 'bleurgh' kind!) and moved on. Now that I'm ~70% in, this other character has never reappeared in the book. He was part of a strand that isn't going to be written and in fact, all of his scenes will be cut (or at least significantly changed). Thank goodness I didn't spend any more blood, sweat or tears on trying to fix them!

For those scenes, absolutely the right thing to do was to stop writing them and leave myself a note, because subconsciously, I obviously knew they were wrong.

Other times, I go back to a scene and the ending to it falls out naturally because of what I've written in the next scene, or in a later scene.


I find it hard to remember that a first draft is always terrible. There are plot holes; the order of the scenes isn't right; whole scenes are irrelevant; vital scenes are missing... I need to remind myself almost daily, that a first draft is me just getting the story sorted out in my head; that the first draft is always the worst version of the book; that no one, not even my closest writer-friends, will ever read the first draft. I constantly want to go back and to polish the scenes I've written, because their awfulness pokes at me and saps my confidence. They sit there, telling me that I'm a terrible writer who can't even finish off a scene.

And then, I go back and look at some of the scenes with the 'bleugh, I have no idea where this is going' notes and realise, no, I didn't ever know where that scene was going, because ultimately it was going in the trash!


If you're writing your first draft, my advice would be not to get bogged down in a scene, but to keep marching forwards, because when you get to the end of the first draft, those 'difficult' scenes might be cut, or their solution may have appeared.


Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Random questions and Helpful People

As a writer, there are always times when you don't know something that is crucial to the plot. In some genres, that's fine - you could just make it up! But at other times, you need to know the actual answer!

Yes, there is the Internet and your search engine of choice, and I have spent many a happy day getting utterly lost down rabbit-holes after starting out on trying to find what I thought should be a simple fact. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent on the National Libraries of Scotland site, on their map comparison pages (https://maps.nls.uk/)!

But sometimes, the Internet doesn't have the answer, or you need a more nuanced or more detailed answer than can be found online.

Step forward the amazing local knowledge people.

So far, for book #10, I have been grilling a local solicitor about inheritance issues as a key plot point, and a local historian about the building of Fort George and the origins of Ardersier.

The solicitor, Donald, has been enormously helpful (and patient) as I've asked about how long things would take, what paperwork would be involved, checked out minuscule details and asked random questions. He's even given me an amazing quote to use in the book. Donald, you've been a total star!

And Lorna has gone above and beyond with help over Fort George, Ardersier, maps, lists of graveyards/cemeteries, burial lists, and so much more. Hubby and I went up to Ardersier recently and managed to meet up with Lorna, who then promptly found even more maps and information for me. We had a fabulous (socially distanced) couple of hours, with tea, cake and chat in the local café up there, and I came away not only better informed, but with some great new plot points rattling through my head.

So yes, the Internet can be great, but real people can be even better.

Now, I just need to drag myself away from those maps and I might even get close to the NaNoWriMo target I talked about last week!


Tuesday, 10 November 2020

NaNoWriMo

Those of you who know me well, know that I've never been a big fan of NaNoWriMo - the idea that you write 50K words of a novel over the month of November.

It sounds straightforward - write 1667 words a day, every day for all 30 days. Or 2381 words per weekday with the weekend off. Or however you want to slice and dice it.


I've always felt that this was unsustainable for me. I plan a lot. And although on a good writing day I can clear more than 3000 words and I may even sustain that for a few days in a row, I'm not sure I can sustain 1667 per day for 30 days as an average. And I'm even less sure that in focusing on the word count, I will write 50K words that will survive any editing. Yeah - I could write 50K words in a month, but then I'll spend much longer sorting it all out.

But...

Book #10 is planned. Not every scene in full detail, but the bare bones are certainly sorted out and some of the meat. And although I do have other commitments that pull me away from writing full-time, I could quite probably write more per day than I currently do. I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't average 1667 words per day, or the 50K over the month, but I am going to try to get more of book #10 done than my average monthly word count.

I'll let you know in December if I've managed it! But now... back to writing!


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

In praise of housework


Now, that's a phrase I never thought I'd say. Much as I love having a clean and tidy house, I do not enjoy doing housework. But - like knitting - it's a repetitive, low level of brain-involvement type of activity that clearly allows my brain to be working on other, much more interesting things. Like solving a big plot-hole.

Last week, I realised that my Muse wasn't on strike, I was just trying to write the wrong book. Despite being able to see almost all of the book, there was one big thing that I couldn't quite work out. It was a fairly fundamental part of the book which would need clarification relatively early on in the novel, but however much I tussled with it and turned it this way and that, I couldn't see a way to make it work.

I left it alone, with the hope that my brain would figure it out at some point. After all, in every book I've written, I've come across at least one problem like this and every time, my brain has come up with a solution.

Much like last week, when the book essentially fell into place while I was in the shower, this week, the solution to the sticky plot issue came to me while I was cleaning the kitchen sink. At least this time I didn't need to dash through the house, wrapped in a towel, before I could get some notes down!

Now I just have to write the thing! But at least my Muse is talking to me again and I can see the book properly.



Tuesday, 27 October 2020

My Muse is back!

Last week, I said that my Muse had gone on strike. I was struggling to write; what I did write, I hated... it was all just going horribly.

What a difference a week makes!

It turns out that it wasn't that my characters weren't talking to me, but that I was trying to put them in the wrong book. I'd had an idea about a book and it just didn't quite click, but the plan/plot was sound. Unfortunately, none of the characters seemed to want to play ball. In all the other books that I've written, I can see everything. It feels less like I'm creating and more that I'm writing down a film I can see playing in my head.

Not last week. Last week it felt as if I was writing it from scratch and it was hard.

I tried everything... I tried to keep writing, and hated every word I wrote. Every scene had notes to my future self like "Bleugh!!! This is horrible!" or "Sort this out... I have no idea where this is going or why I'm writing it!" Not a single scene that I got down was singing to me.

I tried leaving it alone for a day and doing something else, but I was twitchy to write and couldn't settle to anything else either. I went back to my desk, sure that this must be a sign that I did know what to write and that all would flow. It didn't.

I tried sand-timers. I tried avoiding the news and social media. I tried knitting, in the hope that my brain would be working on it all while I knitted, and then magically, when I put the knitting away, the words would gush forth, sensibly and beautifully. They didn't.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

My Muse is on strike!

Hmm.

If I'm being brutally honest, it's not going as well as I hoped with book #10. After doing some extensive market research, I changed the book from what I'd originally been thinking about. That original book, who genuinely (and quite understandably) thought it was their turn, is now sulking and telling me how much better they would be than what I'm actually trying to write. My Muse has gone on strike about it and is refusing to cooperate on anything.

Coupled with that, covid-19 is most definitely on the rise again. My brain is back to the anxiety and stress levels of April. I found it hard to write then, too. Then, there was just the virus to worry about. Now, as well as the restrictions in place, there are arguments about how big the restrictions should be, what level (if any) of compensation there should be to businesses affected, and a whole swathe of people saying we should just let it rip through the population because otherwise the economy will crash and burn.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

All hail the mighty Index Card

Yep... I'm plotting again! Book #9 is with Fiona (my editor) and so I'm starting to sort out the plot for book #10.

I tend to plot in layers... I get my key scenes worked out, then layer over the top of them the scenes that are mid-point between them. And yes, I do all this on index cards. Sometimes these are virtual index cards (in Scrivener), but a lot of the time they are actual index cards.

Both the key scenes and the mid-point scenes tend to go on larger cards (6" x 4"). The scenes that come in between go on smaller (5" x 3") cards, and at that point, my dining room table becomes unavailable as I lay them all out and make sure the plot flows smoothly with no massive gaps. No major issue at the moment, as no one is allowed in anyone else's house!


First up will be the key scenes. None of these are especially unusual - look at any "How to plot a Novel" piece and they will be there... The hook; the inciting incident; the first plot point etc. They help me lay the foundations of the book.

Getting the points in between is also enormously useful - what other key things need to happen between the major points? Does the protagonist need to have found something out by then? Does another character need to have appeared by then? Sometimes these can be less of a scene plan (at this stage) and more of a list of things that need to be covered, but that's okay. I can work with that.

Book #10 has two stories that weave a dance together, with both of them resolving at the end, so I know I need to have a tight idea on my plot, otherwise it will end up like spaghetti. How 'pantsers' write is beyond me. I absolutely have to have a plan before I can dive in.

Once I have The Plan, I don't actually have to write the book in order, which helps enormously if a scene is sticky and just not flowing - I can leave it alone, write another and come back when my brain has sorted it all out.

How do others sort out their plot? If you're a 'pantser', how do you not end up with spaghetti? I think I would just end up with an unholy mess if I didn't plan.



Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The elephant in the room: Amazon

There was a Twitter thread recently, by Joanne Harris:



Over the time of lock-down, I saw so many Facebook posts or Tweets, demanding that people boycott Amazon and order from their local bookshop. And while I applaud that on many levels, for me personally, that would result in zero sales for me.

Why?

Because it is not financially viable for me to sell my books in a bookstore. It is only financially viable to sell via Amazon.

Do I like this? No, of course I don't. And if you think that authors get more money from a sale of a book in a bookstore in comparison with how much they get from a sale on Amazon, you might be in for a surprise. If an author is published by a big publisher, it actually matters very little whether the book is sold via Amazon or any other bookseller. They all ask for approximately the same wholesale discount. Depending on the author's contract, they may get 50p-£1 off the sale of a £10 book. A book it might have taken them a year to write. If they are self-published, they'll probably make nothing and may even have to subsidise that sale with profit made via Amazon.

Does that surprise you? Did you think that authors made a lot of money? Well, of course, some do. But the vast majority don't. The Society of Authors reports that the average earnings of a writer in the UK are well below minimum wage. Read this article by The Guardian, and weep. While authors' earnings are falling, the large publishers (including Amazon) are seeing sales rise. However, the amount of a publisher's turnover that was paid to authors, was estimated to account for a mere 3% in 2016.

"But, I paid £9.99 for a book. Where did all the money go? Is it all going to the publisher?"

Good question. All players in a book's publication-to-sale journey want to make money. In the first instance, the publisher wants to make money, to pay for it's staff/overheads etc. And to make a profit. The printer needs to make a profit, so the cost of printing the book has a % added on. The book then needs to get from the printers to the bookstore - a distributor. Again, they don't do this for nothing. Then finally, the retailer needs to make a profit too. For a bricks-and-mortar store, their costs will probably be higher than an online retailer. And each of those stages mean less for the author.

For authors with a big publisher, it may end up financially viable for their books to be in a bricks-and-mortar store, as the publisher will be supplying many titles. But for self-published authors, or those published by a small indie press, these costs can make it financially non-viable. That's if the stores will actually stock the book. There are hundreds of books published each year (600 on one day, recently). The bookstores want to make money so they will focus on the names that sell and the bestseller list. Understandably.

For many self-published authors and those published by small indie publishers, Amazon is both a saviour and a fiend. A saviour, because for each paperback sold via Amazon, I make a little more than I would if I were published by a big publisher. The chain is so much smaller, as Amazon is the printer, distributor and store (though trust me, they still make their profits!). As with any online outlet, there's no physical restriction on shelf-space in Amazon, so all books are 'stocked'. The search facility on Amazon is pretty good, so you can actually see my books when you're searching for your next read.

But it's a fiend because people (understandably) get cross about the amount of tax it pays (or rather doesn't pay). And having 'all your eggs in one basket' is always a risk. If Amazon went under, I would have to spend time, effort and money making my books available via other platforms, and would quite probably not only not make a single penny from them, but make a huge loss.

What's the solution?

I don't know that I have one. Yes, Amazon should pay more tax, but then so should a lot of others. Lots of people (and companies) shift their assets into schemes that mean they pay little or no tax on them. Yes, an 'online sales tax' could be introduced. At least then some money would be going into the common good (one would hope), and the high street might get some protection. But Amazon won't be the one paying that. They'll just add it to the costs for those selling with them. My royalties would drop even further for each sale, and Amazon wouldn't feel a thing.

Tax on turnover rather than profit? That's a rather large sledgehammer to crack a nut and one which would hammer many small businesses who invest in their business and make little profit.

I honestly don't know what the answer is. All I do know is that boycotting Amazon and sticking only to the books you find in your bookstore, would mean that readers were seeing a much narrower range of books than they currently do. There are many reasons why authors self-publish. The fact they do, means that there is a breadth of diversity that is far, far wider than the big publishers cover. Boycotting Amazon only hurts the authors, not Amazon.



Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Book 9 has left the building!

Well, in truth, it pinged its merry way off to Fiona, my editor, just over a week ago. I don't know whether the 'birth' of this book was easier - the characters and setting were all in place as this is the fourth book of The Realm, so the main focus was the plot - but it has all seemed more straightforward than other books have been.

Consequently, when I finished the first draft, I didn't feel a huge amount of emotion - glad to finish it and tired, mostly - and I felt even less having finished three rounds of edits on it. Then, it was more, "Well, I knew I would get this done, and now I have."

Perhaps that's it... In the past, maybe I wasn't always sure I would actually finish the book. And indeed, there is a 'finished' book that I can't bear to edit. But I can't remember feeling so nothing about getting to this stage with a book.

A good friend suggested that I'd reached the "I'm a professional writer and this is a task that's been completed, so no big deal" stage. Much as I would love that to be true, I suspect the reality is more that I didn't get a holiday after launching the first three books of The Realm series, went almost straight into writing the fourth and am just exhausted now!

Despite being tired, I'm also incapable of taking time off. I finished the edits on a Saturday. I managed to take the Sunday as a 'catch up day' but even then, I was already planning how to tackle book #10 while Fiona has book #9. It seems utterly strange to me to not be working on a book at some point during the day. I rarely take a whole day off, even at the weekends. I may not do much, and it may be less work on a novel and more on other writing-related tasks (marketing, blog posts, interviews with other authors etc.), but I don't think a day goes by without me doing something.

Hence, when I finished my edits, I was going, "What now?" Sunday is normally the day I sit down and plan my week, but what was going in my week? I had a Zoom call for a podcast and I had a couple of family commitments, but other than that... nothing.

The New Shiny Thing was waving (it's been waving at me for ages). But should I plunge straight into book #10 without having at least a bit of a break?

My brain didn't really give me an option! I had the characters fairly set in my head, and the setting, and some inkling of the plot, but nothing about the plot was concrete. I forced myself to take Monday as a 'me day' and wrote long-overdue letters to friends. On the Tuesday morning I was in a Zoom meeting for a podcast. And yes, you guessed it, by Tuesday afternoon, I was deep into thinking about book #10.

Has anyone else hit this after finishing? A huge feeling of, "Okay, done that. Now what?" Or is it just me? And how do people convince themselves to take time off??



Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Interview with author Neil Mach


This week, I'm delighted to be interviewing Neil Mach, author of "Moondog and the Reed Leopard" and host of the podcast Myth and Magic.

Tell me more about your book?
Moondog and the Reed Leopard” is crime fiction with a twist. Moondog is a member of the Roma (itinerant) community and due to a background in paranormal research, he becomes engaged by a television program to be their “go to” preternatural detective. There are multiple plot twists and elements of detective fiction in the novel, but at its core, this is a 21st century urban fantasy romp with magic, cryptids, and mysterious events. The plot revolves around a teenager who begins the story as an intermediary between officials and becomes Moondog’s vital assistant in a fight against evil.

This sounds brilliant. What prompted you to write it?
I have Romani chal ancestry, and I always think that English Gypsies are not convincingly represented in fiction (or by the media.) I wanted to synthesise a Romani character who represented the positives of the ethnicity rather than all those tired-old stereotypical negatives. But, because he's a “gypsy”  — my main character will have a difficult time relating to officialdom, which makes him an incongruous and rather unlikely detective; and it doesn’t help that he (will not) read and write. But his cultural upbringing is more than just a gimmick: his wild temperament and nomadic lifestyle is intrinsically linked to natural phenomena, pantheism, spirituality, and transcendentalism. If that all sounds rather grand, it’s not meant to be. “Moondog and the Reed Leopard” is a fun mystery-scamper with a cute teenage participant who has her own issues & tissues (an annoying ex who won’t let her go) and it’s filled with surprise and wonder!


What are you working on at the moment? Are there already plans for the next book after this one?
Yes, “Moondog and the Dark Arches” will be the next in the series, to be released as an ARC (on Booksprout) this month. Moondog is asked to investigate when a girl jumps off a bridge after escaping from a sinister pagan ritual. His “helper” in the new tale is Janney, a teenage librarian in an oddly old-fashioned village. She has a remarkable ability: she can travel outside of her own body to connect with another in a transcendent state. Book Three is in development and I'll probably write it in this year's NaNoWriMo.

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
I started out as a school boy, writing school plays. I had a poem published at age ten! I knew from the beginning that I had a huge imagination, and writing things down helped me harness and control the wildest wanderings of my mind.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!)
My first full-length published (and completed) novel was “The Last Music Bearer”, set in alternative medieval Britain where music has been banned by the authorities. A group of mendicant friars bring music to the communities, but they are pursued and persecuted by a fearsome counterforce of monks (the Black Hounds) who propose the total suppression of all music and the destruction of the Music Bearers.

Which is your favourite secondary character in your book, and why is it your favourite?
Back to Moondog — he has problems of his own, and there is a question about his line of descent. His mother-in-law, a recurring character, disapproves of his “less than” pure-blooded Romani ancestry and she does not think he is of sufficient pedigree to marry her daughter, born a gypsy princess. So the answer to your question is Moondog’s mother-in-law: Assumpta. She is a crotchety and curmudgeonly, with a lot of scorn and bigotry in her bones (so fun to write.) She speaks the old Romani language and, like my grandmother, she dabbles in divination and considers herself to be a prophetess. I ought to add that my grandmother was wise and adorable, not the least curmudgeonly (though she read patterns in tea leaves.)

Where is your ideal writing space?
I require total silence and a desktop computer. I have my own office, and that's where you'll find me eight hours a day.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given? (not necessarily writing-related!)
“To Thine Own Self Be True” Hamlet, act 1 scene 3 

And now for some more random questions...

What’s your radio tuned to most often?
Smooth fm (while I'm cooking)

You’re stranded on an island. You can choose one of the following three things. Which do you choose and why?
1. Limitless supply of paper and pens.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up.
3. An endless supply of loo roll.
I think the period of lockdown has proven you can feel “connected” with other humans even if you only read about/see what they're doing... so I'll opt for the computer

You can only wear one of the following colours for the rest of your life. Which colour do you choose? Yellow. Orange. Green. White. Pink.
I consider myself to be a “bohemian goth” so I naturally gravitate towards darker colours. Since these aren't an option, I will go for white and hope it gets begrimed

Cats or dogs?
Doglike cats

City or country?
Suburb

Real book or e-book?
I like the texture and smell of a real e-book

Fountain pen or biro?
Sharpie

Thanks very much for letting me bombard you with questions!

You can catch up with Neil at any or all of these places...

Website: https://neilmach.me/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.neilmach



Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Interview with Sami Valentine

Sami Valentine
This week, I'm delighted to share an interview with author Sami Valentine with you. Sami is the author of The Red Witch Chronicles.

Tell me more about your book?
A Witch Called Red is the first book in the Red Witch Chronicles. This is a supernatural thriller about a witch trained as a supernatural bounty hunter; where she came from is a mystery. Each book in the series has its own plot and conflict to solve. The overarching mystery is Red discovering exactly who she is and why she was left for dead with amnesia outside Eugene, Oregon. In the first book, Red and her mentor come to Los Angeles to solve the mysterious murder of a model left drained on the beach. Red gets in over her head as the murder investigations takes a hard turn into a conspiracy with the local vampires. It will eventually be a 9-book series and book 5 is coming out at the end of 2020.

What prompted you to write it?
I am really interested in identity and memory and how it affects someone's personality and choices. A big theme in the Red Witch Chronicles is the struggle with being yourself and it's interesting to explore those themes with a character who has no memories.

What are you working on at the moment? Are there already plans for the next book after this one?
I am working on the fifth book of my Red Witch Chronicles series. I am a detailed plotter and world-builder so I have the big plot points of the 4 books in the series outlined. This is an interesting book to write because it’s both answering and giving red herrings to the big question of the series—the amnesiac MC’s origins. The book is about coming home and facing your past so I get to explore some interesting dynamics with the characters which after so many books are nicely developed.

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
I have no idea when I started writing or what made me. I always loved books and my grandparents were big readers who pushed all their old favorites on me. I knew that I wanted to be a writer early. My first publicly posted story was probably a terrible Harry Potter fanfiction when I was like 12-13 then I filled journals and did creative writing classes in school. I even was a creative writing major, briefly in college because I had the cliched encounter with a professor who was a snob against genre fiction. I was publishing my own zine, writing for local blogs and papers, and submitting short stories in college. Even got a novella traditionally published by a small press. Then I had writer’s block for years. It's been 2-3 years since I have gotten back into writing to carry on my childhood dream of being a writer.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!)
An urban fantasy book called Dig Two Graves set in Tucson, Arizona. This novel was the seed to the world-building 16-year-old with little life experience, but there are a few scene ideas that I will end up incorporating into a new story. I still enjoy that main character and the opening scene which came from a dream of a young Hispanic woman working one of those anonymous motels along the highway, knocking on a door saying housekeeping while a vampire has a kidnapped victim inside, and well, let’s just say she cleaned up even if she left a bloody mess.

Which is your favourite secondary character in your book, and why is it your favourite?
Vic Constantine. He popped into my head as my main character’s hunting partner and mentor with what I thought was an expiration date at the end of book 1. He is a complicated dude—bounty hunter, hacker, and adopted Korean redneck. Definitely worth his own standalone book. His voice is one of the easiest for me to ‘hear’ as a writer.

Where is your ideal writing space?
My ideal: an outdoor covered patio in a temperate climate while a gentle rain taps outside as my coffee steams close to hand. I am in a silky robe with pockets and an ergonomic chair. There is a black cat curled up in a nearby chair. Or specifically this small renovated castle ruin in France:


My current writing space is a small desk in the corner of my bedroom in what is most certainly not a French castle.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given? (not necessarily writing-related!)
Don’t half ass things a bunch of things, full-ass a few. Multi-tasking doesn’t actually exist. Life is more satisfying and less stressful when you just focus on what really matters to you than ‘keeping up with the Jones’ or ‘having it all.’

And now for some more random questions...

What’s your radio tuned to most often?
I am a Spotify person because I love playlists. Right now I am writing so much urban fantasy that I have a 15+ hour long playlist filled with the rock, pop, electric, and rap that reminds me of the genre.

You’re stranded on an island. You can choose one of the following three things. Which do you choose and why?
1. Limitless supply of paper and pens.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up.
3. An endless supply of loo roll.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up.

I assume that this has a word processor so I could still write. The trouble would be keeping sand out of it, I suppose. Then I would have all the information on how to survive, which plants to eat, how to make a shelter, weather reports, etc. That is more useful than loo paper because I can just use a leaf or something.

You can only wear one of the following colours for the rest of your life. Which colour do you choose? Yellow. Orange. Green. White. Pink.
Green. I have red hair, lightening or darkening depending on the seasons much like an Arctic Tern, and I think that would be the most complimentary. If I choose white, I would be constantly dripping things on myself because that is my luck.

Cats or dogs?
Dogs are delightful and I love them but cats are better for writers… as long as you have a decoy keyboard for them to hang out on.

City or country?
I hate choosing between the two! Its why I like cities like Medellin, Colombia and Tucson, Arizona where you can quickly go between either.

Real book or e-book?
It used to be real books all the way, but I ran out of bookshelf space and I finally embraced e-readers. In a normal year, I spend over 8 months traveling or living abroad so I had to adapt my reading habits to become more minimal.

Fountain pen or biro?
I am in the US so we don’t call them this but biro sounds fun.

Thanks very much for letting me bombard you with questions!

You can keep up with Sami at all of these places...
Website: Samivalentine.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/samivalentine/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/sami.valentine.writer/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/sami-valentine
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19596810.Sami_Valentine

And don't forget to check out her book!




Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Final extract from Aegyir Rises

Over the last few weeks, I've shared the opening scene from Aegyir Rises, and a couple of scenes from a little further into the book. This week, Reagan finds another strange item left for her on her kitchen table.

Aegyir Rises

People are dying in Cumbria. Lots of people. It appears to be a flu outbreak. Except no one tests positive for any virus known to man. And there appears to be a serial killer on the loose too. Bodies keep appearing in secluded areas, but there’s no obvious cause of death.

Meanwhile, Reagan Bennett is being plagued by dreams of a different world. Ones where she’s a warrior called Aeron. Ones where a woman keeps urging her to come home because it’s not a plague that’s killing everyone, but the demon Aegyir. Ones where she’s sentenced to hang for being a traitor.

Aegyir is real. And he believes Reagan is his old enemy Aeron. One he’d sworn to destroy.

Reagan needs to figure out who Aegyir is, before they slaughter everyone she loves. And to do that, she needs to figure out who she really is.



If you liked that, the ebook is available for less than the cost of a cup of coffee... 😊



Tuesday, 1 September 2020

3rd extract from Aegyir Rises

Over the last couple of weeks, I've shared the opening scene from Aegyir Rises, and a scene a little further into the book. This week, Reagan has a very strange encounter, out on the motorbike.

Aegyir Rises

People are dying in Cumbria. Lots of people. It appears to be a flu outbreak. Except no one tests positive for any virus known to man. And there appears to be a serial killer on the loose too. Bodies keep appearing in secluded areas, but there’s no obvious cause of death.

Meanwhile, Reagan Bennett is being plagued by dreams of a different world. Ones where she’s a warrior called Aeron. Ones where a woman keeps urging her to come home because it’s not a plague that’s killing everyone, but the demon Aegyir. Ones where she’s sentenced to hang for being a traitor.

Aegyir is real. And he believes Reagan is his old enemy Aeron. One he’d sworn to destroy.

Reagan needs to figure out who Aegyir is, before they slaughter everyone she loves. And to do that, she needs to figure out who she really is.



If you liked that, the ebook is available for less than the cost of a cup of coffee... 😊



Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Second audio extract from Aegyir Rises

Last week, I shared the opening scene with you. This week, the extract is from a little further on in the book, when Reagan has an odd experience whilst at work. What is the strange creature she sees after the accident? And why can only Reagan see it?

Aegyir Rises

People are dying in Cumbria. Lots of people. It appears to be a flu outbreak. Except no one tests positive for any virus known to man. And there appears to be a serial killer on the loose too. Bodies keep appearing in secluded areas, but there’s no obvious cause of death.

Meanwhile, Reagan Bennett is being plagued by dreams of a different world. Ones where she’s a warrior called Aeron. Ones where a woman keeps urging her to come home because it’s not a plague that’s killing everyone, but the demon Aegyir. Ones where she’s sentenced to hang for being a traitor.

Aegyir is real. And he believes Reagan is his old enemy Aeron. One he’d sworn to destroy.

Reagan needs to figure out who Aegyir is, before they slaughter everyone she loves. And to do that, she needs to figure out who she really is.




If you liked that, the ebook is available for less than the cost of a cup of coffee... 😊



Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Audio extract from Aegyir Rises

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some audio extracts from Aegyir Rises with you. Hope you enjoy them!

Aegyir Rises

People are dying in Cumbria. Lots of people. It appears to be a flu outbreak. Except no one tests positive for any virus known to man. And there appears to be a serial killer on the loose too. Bodies keep appearing in secluded areas, but there’s no obvious cause of death.

Meanwhile, Reagan Bennett is being plagued by dreams of a different world. Ones where she’s a warrior called Aeron. Ones where a woman keeps urging her to come home because it’s not a plague that’s killing everyone, but the demon Aegyir. Ones where she’s sentenced to hang for being a traitor.

Aegyir is real. And he believes Reagan is his old enemy Aeron. One he’d sworn to destroy.

Reagan needs to figure out who Aegyir is, before they slaughter everyone she loves. And to do that, she needs to figure out who she really is.

This is the opening scene:



If you liked that, the ebook is available for less than the cost of a cup of coffee... 😊



Tuesday, 11 August 2020

A difficult decision...


I've been living in The Realm - the world of the trilogy and the current book - for years. I know these characters inside out and upside down. I have so many more of their stories to tell. But I've made the difficult decision that I will probably only be telling those stories to myself.

Why?

The law of diminishing returns. Of 100 people who read the first book of the trilogy, fewer than 100 will read the second. Perhaps all who read the second will go on to read the final part of the trilogy, but perhaps not. Ditto for a fourth book in the series. For a fifth book? Who knows how many will keep going with it. Quite probably only a small %. However, it still costs me a year of work (near enough) to write the book, plus the same costs for editing, cover design and so on, but with only a fraction of the return. It doesn't necessarily make commercial sense to keep going.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash
On top of that, "book #10" is burning a hole in my brain. I started thinking about this book over two years ago, on a trip to visit my good friend Jackie McLean (read all about her here). I made notes - enough to plan out some stuff but not so many that I ended up writing the book. I've been adding to those notes on and off since then. More recently, the characters have started prodding me a bit more, asking when it will be their turn. "Soon, my darlings, soon," I keep promising them. Eventually they will make me keep my word.

It's not been an easy decision to make. I've been mulling it over for a while now. I still love Aeron and Faran and the world they live in. I can still see their lives ahead: their adventures; their successes; their defeats. I will no doubt keep writing about them - I already have a Scrivener file called "Aeron and Faran stories" and maybe in the future I will publish them as a stand-alone companion piece (or give it away to my newsletter readers). But another full-length novel? Probably not.

So what's happening in "book #10"? More magic. A cailleach figure. A haunted house. Some amazing stuff.

It will be your turn soon, my darlings. Soon.



Tuesday, 4 August 2020

SPFBO update...

You may recall that I entered Aegyir Rises into a competition... the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). There were ~300 entrants and the first round of the competition will whittle those 300 down to 10.

The 300 books were distributed to 10 bloggers, who then split them up within their group to read. I was assigned to Jen, in the blog RockStarLit Book Asylum.

Jen finished her reviews of the 6 books she was given and you can read all of them here (please do - there are some cracking books in the competition).

Sadly, Aegyir Rises didn't make it through to their next round, where the favourite book of each of the reviewers is read by the others for RockStarLit Book Asylum, but it came a very close second and was highly commended. Jen left a really lovely review of the book, and clearly liked reading it, which is always good to hear! Please do go and see what her review says.

I'm a little sad and disappointed not to have got further, but delighted that Jen enjoyed the book so much and that it came such a close second in her group. And congratulations to Scott Walker for his book "The Dragon's Banker" for making it through to the next round.

Don't forget, you can get a FREE copy of the prequel to the Guardians of The Realm trilogy, by signing up below.




Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Editing...

I know some authors who hate editing. I used to, but I now actually really enjoy it. A long time ago, an author had said (in a Tweet to me) that their favourite aspect of writing was the line-edits, because they loved tightening the words until they squealed. At the time I thought she was mad.

Now?

Now I know exactly what she means.

Don't get me wrong. I still love the thrill of the first draft - finding out what the story is about; working out how to make it all fit together; putting characters through hell and then getting them out again (or not, as the case may be!).

I'm less enamoured of the structural edit that follows, though thankfully, this time around, my extra planning in the early stages has mean that the structure has (so far) largely been unchanged and when I compare the scene list to my 'beat sheets' the book is still on track and hasn't suddenly developed an enormous middle or lost the third act along the way! This is clearly the way to go in future, because for some past books, I've been lost in the swamp of structural edits for ages.

But now comes the fun bit. I know what happens, I know what order it all happens in. Now I just have to try and get the words right! Of course, then it'll be off to my amazing editor, Fiona, who will make the whole thing sparkle, but I would like it to be halfway decent before she sees it!

So, wish me luck... I may be some time!