Wednesday 21 September 2011

New Cover, New Book

So here is the final cover for my YA fantasy Edge of Dreams. Not quite ready to publish yet - it needs a last edit for typos and to murder any remaining extraneous adverbs - but I'm pleased with the way it's come out. I'll post links to it once it's uploaded but I just wanted to share it with the world now.

What do you do when you think that the bad guys might care more about you than the good ones?

Edge Of Dreams is now available in kindle format on  Amazon UK, Amazon DE and Amazon US/Other.  Also in all formats (including PDF and HTML) at Smashwords.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Every Day Fiction

Checking through recent submissions, I remembered having a short story Moira accepted by online fiction site Every Day Fiction. I was sure they'd said August or September so I went back and checked their listings and found that I'd totally missed it on August 16th! I think I was supposed to get an email beforehand, but in fairness, the site had a major systems crash mid-August so I suspect my email was one of the casualties!

Anyway, it was a nice surprise to go back and read it online and find out that 56 people voted it at a 3.7/5 star rating. And lots of lovely comments too.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Sample Sunday: Paying The Piper

An extract from WIP Paying The Piper:

The rear tyre blew at eighty-five miles per hour in the outside lane of the M25, just past junction eleven. Amanda didn’t hear it go, but she felt the steering wheel wrench from her grip just as Mika launched into Grace Kelly on the car’s CD player. The screech of tyres didn’t improve the quality of the music as the car swerved towards the central reservation, and the scrape of metal against metal seemed perfectly timed to the song.

She pulled hard to the left, narrowly missing the Renault in the middle lane. The driver flashed his headlights several times in succession, overtook on the inside and accelerated away out of danger, making a crude gesture with his fingers as he passed her. Just like a man. Anything to avoid trouble. Never wants to get involved. The car skidded on the wet road and she hit the brake instinctively, only deepening the skid as all four tyres lost contact with the tarmac.

Suddenly, the world reduced to four wheels and an engine. Frantically, she tried to remember what they’d said on the advanced driving talk which the office had laid on for them all. Two winters ago, when five company cars had been written off in as many weeks, the firm had decided that a driving seminar was called for. At the time, all the staff had been concerned about was the fact that they were expected to come in for an evening without pay; right now, Amanda reckoned that survival would be payment enough. She eased her foot off the brake and steered into the skid, thanking whatever Gods were listening that there were no other cars on the inside. The motorway was quiet and most sensible people would be at work, not speeding round the M25 with their life in ruins. 

Surprisingly enough, the car responded. She could feel the difference through the steering wheel as the remaining tyres began to grip the road. She touched the brake once, twice – cadence braking, just like she’d been taught – and the car slowed and straightened as she eased it across to the inside lane and onto the hard shoulder. Coming to a standstill, she switched off the engine, cutting Mika off in his prime. The sudden silence was overwhelming, the smell of burning rubber filled the car and she wondered what she was going to do now. 

For the third time that day, Amanda burst into tears. It hadn’t exactly been a spectacular success so far. She’d been on the move three hours now, ever since arriving at the nursery at lunchtime and discovering that Paul had already picked up Melanie. At home, she found he’d taken a suitcase; some of his clothes were missing, and a stack of nappies had gone with some sleepsuits from Mel’s room. And three hours later, where had she got to? Halfway across the country, with what seemed like days stuck in a motorway tailback on the M4, and no nearer finding her daughter than she had been when she’d set out with just her handbag, and only that because she knew it contained her credit cards and phone and the one thing she was going to need was money. Money for petrol and food, probably somewhere to stay the night and no doubt cash to bribe his family. Because that’s where he’d be, running home to mummy and that awful interfering sister of his. Running home with Melanie.

Mel. The thought made her cry even harder. How could he have taken their daughter with him? Aside from the fact that he knew next to nothing about caring for a nine-month old baby, Paul had never given any indication about the way he felt before. True, he’d never been a man of many emotions; that’s what she’d loved about him – his calm competence, easy acceptance of redundancy and the optimism with which he’d set about finding himself a new job, even when it had involved a move across the country. She’d gone willingly, six months pregnant and excited at the thought of a new life together. And then it had all started to fall apart.

Damn Bristol. She thumped the car horn loudly with her fist, wishing it was somebody’s head. Damn Carroll’s Limited; there was nothing limited about the liberties the directors were apparently prepared to take with their employees. And damn to Hell and back Mark Cartland for taking her to the office post-Christmas party and then to his bed. She hadn’t meant it to happen, hadn’t set out with the idea of adultery in her mind, but Paul had been working late again, keen to impress his new boss and she’d been lonely in the new house. Mark had been so understanding when she’d had to take time off at short notice when Melanie was ill. She couldn’t refuse his invitation. She hadn’t wanted to. He was a nice guy in his own way, though not really her type. Besides, nobody else had asked her to accompany them to the dinner at a local hotel and as usual Paul had been too busy.

Stop making excuses, Amanda. You slept with your boss and your husband found out. End of story. Who could blame Paul for the way he’d reacted? But how could he run off like that, without giving her the chance to explain, to apologise and try to make up for what she’d done. It was as if he didn’t want to know any more. Perhaps he would never be able to forgive her. Perhaps he’d never let her see Melanie again.

Monday 5 September 2011

A Long, Long Time Ago ...

... in a galaxy far, far away, I used to be into live fantasy role-playing (aka LRP/LARP to those nerds in the know). In the early 1980s, LRP was really only starting out in the UK and I spent many weekends with a group of like-minded nerds - and I mean that in the most affectionate way - from Liverpool University at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, playing Treasure Trap. If you really want a laugh, click the link. I knew these people. I was one of them...

So there we were, spending weekends camping in a real live castle, with one toilet between however many people were staying. I think there was a shower put in much later, but let's just say it wasn't a health spa. Mostly in bizarre costumes, we'd eat down the local pub and drink into the small hours in the top of one of the towers. Then there were the adventures: many hours enacting various quests throughout the castle. I say enacting, but those of you who have ever played Dungeons & Dragons will understand it's more like free-form acting, with an overall end objective, but you kind of make up the rest as you go along, keeping in character of course. Anything can happen - and often does.

I was writing back then too, and if you are a fantasy writer, you really can't beat the experience of living some of this - I can give you an exact reaction to creeping along a stone corridor in the dark, rounding a corner and coming across a 6ft long-haired, bearded bloke, built like the proverbial brick shit-house, wearing studded leather and wielding a steel sword. Or watching an execution on the drawbridge by flaming torchlight. Or abseiling from a tower while a horde of mad people are firing arrows at you. I've lost touch with most of the people from this part of my life, which is a shame as they were a great bunch of guys and we had some fantastic weekends.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm supposed to have grown up as I'm married with a mortgage and a job. But I'm talking to some like-minded people on CIX and get invited to participate in a Star Wars event in South London. I get a kit list sent to me, with joining instructions and a character sheet. Bear in mind I've never met any of these people before, but I venture off to some disused warehouse that has been decked out for the day, get my laser tag equipment and we're off on a 12 hour adventure loosely set in the Star Wars universe. I had one of the best days of my life, totally immersed in an alternate reality, trying to steal a secret CD and divulge vital information to the opposition (yes, the traitor was ME, mwha ha ha...). Came back through Waterloo station in costume late at night with some of my compatriots and we did get some strange looks, although this was fortunately well before all the terrorist alerts.

So I apologise to anyone who knows me. I was a nerd. And I loved it!

Saturday 3 September 2011

Rebecca Hamilton: Common Mistakes Writers Overlook While Editing

Today’s guest post is by writer and editor Rebecca Hamilton. Rebecca is a writer and editor and you can find out more about her on her website and blog. In this post, she offers some helpful tips for editing your own writing.

I’ve edited for and exchanged with many writers. And, being admittedly picky about who I edit for, I will say that many of them were extremely talented. As I edited for them, there were times where I pointed out things that I knew they knew, but they had just missed. How did I know they knew these things? Because they pointed these same things out to me, even though they knew I knew, too. These are problems that are just all too easy to make when you are too close to your writing.

What does it mean to be “too close to your writing”, anyway? It means you are unable to see problems in your own work that you would see in others. It’s not because you think your writing is better, or that your writing is “the exception”, or even that your writing is too precious to you. It’s that you simply know the bigger picture. You know where that train of thought leads, and so at no point are you confused about what you are trying to say.

This leads me to the first thing on my list. This is the one I see the most – very often in writers who aren’t aware to edit for this, but also occasionally in the works of authors who do.

This is what I use to describe the order events are relayed. Sometimes there is disconnect between this, and the order events happened. Or it can just be the context in which something happens. Most specifically, this happens on a sentence level, and it’s easy to miss because by the end of the sentence, the entire idea has been relayed. And to the author writing it, they can see that whole sentence as a single idea/moment. But for the reader, that’s not always the case. Sometimes to the reader, putting context at the end of the sentence can make an idea seem “tacked on” or like it’s materialized out of nowhere. This is because readers “fill in the blanks” as they go. This is automatic, and it happens on a moment-by-moment (not sentence by sentence) basis.

Here I will give an example. Let’s say your character just got in a huge fight with her sister. You are now jumping in time to your character working on a birdhouse she’d started building at some earlier point in the story. I’m going to force you to read this like a reader now:

I headed back to my work station to put some final touches on the birdhouse…

I will stop the sentence there. As you are reading, you can guess where that sentence might go (though you don’t know yet). You can also make some assumptions about what happened between the fight with the sister and the working on the birdhouse. Most likely, you’ll assumed nothing happened in between. So when the sentence finishes….

…after calling mom to tell her about the fight with Kara.

Well, that feels a bit tacked on, doesn’t it? If she called her mom first, and THEN worked on the birdhouse, then the reader should be given that information in that order. To a writer, something like this can be a single idea, because we already know the order of events. This is why it’s a common mistake among writers, even those who know context needs to come first.

The good news is, that when you DO spot it, it’s easy to fix. Just reverse the parts of the sentence:

After calling mom to tell her about the fight with Kara, I headed back to my work station to put some final touches on the birdhouse.

So how can you catch these errors? There are two solutions:

1)  Have someone who isn’t close to the work read through for this. The average reader might only know it feels “off” but another writer might be able to help you figure out why.
2)  Give yourself some time away from your MS. Wait a month, then come back to it. A lot more of these instances will pop out at you.

The above two solutions can be used to readdress any common editing mistakes. I’ve listed more of them below:

Especially where commas are concerned. A lot of writers struggle with commas as it is, but even those who know them inside and out have trouble. And it’s with certain commas in particular:

a) The introductory phrase comma (these are often left out intentionally by UK writers). Introductory phrases are usually phrases that show context – they introduce the main clause. For example: With a thick pair of mittens on, I could barely feel the rollercoaster safety bar I was grasping. Or After the sun set, I set out on my journey to Lemming Cliff. Or When she told me about what happened to Hank, I nearly vomited up last night’s chilli cheese dogs.

b) The parenthetical phrase comma – this one is a bit more specific. The error with the parenthetical phrase comma is usually that the comma that would close the phrase is left off, and this is most often done by those who don’t use oxford/serial commas and have an and directly following the parenthetical phrase. For example: I went to the store, hoping to buy bread and met with Mark along the way. There should be a comma after bread. Your independent clause is I went to the store and met with Mark along the way. The hoping to buy bread was a parenthetical pit-stop along the way and needs to be encapsulated with commas. This is different from: I went to the store to buy milk, bread and eggs. Which doesn’t need a comma (if you don’t use oxford/serial commas) after bread because bread wasn’t a parenthetical phrase. I went to the store to buy milk was the end of the independent clause. That said, you can use a comma after bread there if you use oxford commas.

c) This leads me to a problem more common with US writers than UK writers – using a comma before a small conjunction. In the US, we are supposed to use commas before a small conjunction only when the next part of the sentence is an independent clause. Too often we (myself included) leave it off more than we should or add it more than we should. For example, you need a comma before and here: I went to the store, and Mark went home. But you don’t need one here: I went to the store and bought cheese. The bought cheese isn’t an independent clause. But Mark went home is.

When trying to figure out which to use, there’s a simple little trick: Objects lay, people lie.

A lot of writers use character “filters”. I think this has its place when trying to create narrative distance, but when hoping to engage the reader in the experience, you’ll want a deeper POV. A deeper POV will allow the reader to experience the story, as opposed to have a character narrate it to them. For example: She could see the silhouette of a man outside her window. This isn’t her seeing, it’s saying she could see. Example 2: She saw the silhouette of a man outside her window. We’re hearing what happened, but we aren’t seeing it for ourselves. Example 3: The silhouette of a man walked past her window/shifted outside her window/approached her window. There are lots of options there. Now we’re deeper in POV. We’re seeing it, and we know she saw it, too, because it’s her POV and it’s being narrated to us. It wouldn’t be narrated to us if she hadn’t seen it (unless you’re writing in an omniscient POV). But instead of telling us the obvious (that she saw it) we get to see it for ourselves. It allows the moment to come to life.

The best way to fix this is to do a search for filter words, such as: saw, see, felt, feel, hear, heard, taste, tasted, smell, smelled, knew, know (I knew I shouldn’t do this versus I shouldn’t do this). And so on. This also helps to reduce some of the personal pronoun starts, without unnaturally convoluting your sentence structures. (And the same could be true of fixing the first common error I mentioned: Context)

So many times, in my work as well as others, I see sentences that didn’t end soon enough.
For example: He smiled at me. The at me isn’t needed if the two are having a conversation and there is no one else in the room. That sounded like a horrible idea to me. The to me is implied. It’s that person’s POV after all.

Looking for opportunities to cut unneeded sentence endings can help make your voice carry more authority and will also strengthen the impact of your sentences. Emphasis goes at the end. Do you want to emphasize to me or do you want emphasize horrible idea. Which words carry more power?

I’ll sign off here, as this post is already a mile long. But for those who haven’t looked out for these things in their writing, I think you’ll find these 5 simple tips help you improve your MS a great deal!