Unnecessary Characters

Another dilemma—what to do with unwanted or unnecessary characters. The best idea is to let them go, but do it in such a way that it provides more tension for the main character(s). In my first thriller, the main character – Jack Colins – is chased by a woman who attempts to discover his secret. She sits next to him on a train ride to Milan and hounds her way into his life to the point of being more than annoying. At a crucial moment, Jack discovers her body in an ante-room in a small church and it’s not a pretty scene. But, her demise piles more pressure on Jack and he is forced to flee to safety in an e-type Jaguar, aided by his sister. Unfortunately, she also becomes an ‘unnecessary character’ and …. no more spoilers. But, if you really want to find out what happens to my unwanted characters, why not buy my book? PS: the e-type is yellow; it just had to be yellow.

Revise, Revise, or be Reviled

Maggie Shipstead (left) writes, “John Gardner famously wrote that fiction should be a “vivid, continuous dream,” but some readers’ willingness to dream is more robust than others. Some people will shut a book forever at the first sign of an error, their trust in the writer and their suspension of disbelief irrevocably lost. Others will happily read along through almost anything, swallowing the most preposterous plot points, the most egregious anachronisms, and the most glaring inconsistencies…But I think sloppiness is worth trying to avoid, both out of pure principle (why get something wrong when you could get it right?) and because mistakes can be indicative of an author not pressing hard enough on the world she’s building, not making it sturdy enough, settling for a facade.” In her article, Maggie mentions good, or ill-meaning, folks who delighted in pointing out errors in her published work. I had a textbook that was in its 3rd reprint when along came a young student (aka smarty pants) who wrote to my publisher to point out an error, and it was an obvious one—one that escaped the keen eye of editor, writer, proof-reader, etc. How could this happen? In my first novel, the errors kept creeping out of the pages; proof that I was a lousy writer? No matter how hard I tried, the errors were there and my flame-thrower spell checker never seemed to pick them up. When all seemed well, my American spelling lapsed into English spelling; a tense changed within a paragraph, etc. Why all these mistakes? Because, writers, like other humans, are fallible. We get tired. We get over our draft revisions and we long to be rid of the manuscript. My advice to those who find errors? Tell us, but then hide under the bed-covers before we find you and hit you over the head with our revised edition :-).

Author or Writer?

“I have a charming relative who is an angry young littérateur of renown. He is maddened by the fact that more people read my books than his. Not long ago we had semi-friendly words on the subject and I tried to cool his boiling ego by saying that his artistic purpose was far, far higher than mine. He was engaged in “The Shakespeare Stakes.” The target of his books was the head and, to some extent at least, the heart. The target of my books, I said, lay somewhere between the solar plexus and, well, the upper thigh. These self-deprecatory remarks did nothing to mollify him and finally, with some impatience and perhaps with something of an ironical glint in my eye, I asked him how he described himself on his passport. “I bet you call yourself an Author,” I said. He agreed, with a shade of reluctance, perhaps because he scented sarcasm on the way. “Just so,” I said. “Well, I describe myself as a Writer. There are authors and artists, and then again there are writers and painters.”

This rather spiteful jibe, which forced him, most unwillingly, into the ranks of the Establishment, whilst stealing for myself the halo of a simple craftsman of the people, made the angry young man angrier than ever and I don’t now see him as often as I used to. But the point I wish to make is that if you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure or for money. I write, unashamedly, for pleasure and money.” by Ian Fleming

Grab a Free Copy of 3 Wise Men – one day only!

Grab a copy of 3 Wise Men for Kindle here – one day only starting tomorrow. If you do, please leave feedback for other readers (and me). 3 Wise Men has proved very popular and this is an excellent chance to escape to the south of France and Italy. A special feature is that this thriller is based on fact.

“This is a classic thriller with fairly short chapters, which is always good, punchy, gritty realism, gloriously exotic locations and chapter endings that leave you hanging – another tried and tested formula that began with Edgar Rice Burroughs back at the turn of the last century. Thrillers don’t come much better than this – huge fun and very entertaining!” (review from: booksmonthlyreviews.wordpress.com).

Polished editing takes time

It can take 21 months or more to cut a diamond into sparkling perfection. Rushing the process could lead to excessive diamond wastage, unnecessary ugly inclusions and poor shaping. The Diamond cutting business is a prime example of an industry in which “Slow and Steady” wins the day. The same applies to editing and polishing a manuscript. I, for one, have been too keen to take my rough manuscript and hoped it would pass the keen eyes of an accomplished literary agent, only to realise too late that the work needed many more months of fine revision. My humble experience has taught me to not rush the process, and take as long as it needs to make it ‘shine.’ With my first book, 3 WISE MEN, I was not happy until about a year after the first version; with my new book, it has taken a similar length of time to get feedback and re-work the ‘final’ draft. I am so pleased that I slowed down the revision process and hope my readers will be too. A good red wine needs to be opened and sit for a while, allowing it to “breathe”and soften the flavours and release enhancing aromas. Writing is no different? No. JD Salinger took 10 years to write Catcher in the Rye, and the first Harry Potter instalment was six years in the making. Time heals many things and writing is no different.

Successful Authors

“Successful authors are those who know just how difficult it is to write a book.” Stephen Fry

“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. He has no clear idea of his story. In fact, he has no story.” Mark Twain

It starts with the fear of writing your first essay in English and submitting papers at college. When I look back on my time as a student, not one teacher was able or willing to give lessons on writing a novel or novella. At college, I was taught by professors who had published works, but they were mainly collections of poetry or scientific works. However, most of my teachers were willing to correct mistakes in my writing. If only they had taken the time to inspire writing? Our heroes were sporting stars and famous politicians or engineers, etc. Except for one, and he was significant—so much so, that I just have to tell you about him in the next post!

When to Introduce Your Main Characters?

A good question. When is the best time to introduce your main characters in your novel? I made a big mistake on this in my second novel—the draft did not feature the main character (the protagonist) and antagonist until later in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. When I reworked the script to have these characters appear in Chapter 1, along with a strong hint of the conflict between them, it produced better tension and moved the plot along with more pace.
Definitions (from here):


The definition of a protagonist is basically “the main character”. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

“A protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), meaning “player of the first part, chief actor”) is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama. The protagonist is at the center of the story, makes the key decisions, and experiences the consequences of those decisions.”


The Wikipedia definition of antagonist is the following:

An antagonist is a character whose motivations, goals, desires or opinions are opposed to those of the protagonist.

The important aspect in this alternative definition is the lack of hostility. Remember, I am in favor of tension to drive a story, but not in favor of (instant) trouble. Hope this helps your writing; it sure helped mine!


Getting Through the Slush Pile

Your Query lands on the Literary Agent’s desk and you hope for representation? No, that’s wrong. Your Query lands somewhere in a pile of Queries like this…
So, what are your chances of having your <great, edited, beta-checked, fabulous) novel accepted? From my research, I would guess about one chance in a pile of Queries this tall. Some calculate that the chance of making it through the Slush Pile is 1 in 100; then 1 in another 100 to have it accepted by a publisher. Others put the chance at 1 in 6000. It all depends upon which literary gatekeeper you refer to.

I had a non-fiction book accepted my Macmillan Publishers and it did very well (with four reprints). Then I self-published my first thriller and it received great reviews, yet these did not translate into spectacular sales. I wonder if the title—3 WISE MEN—put off the non-religious readers, even though it is hardly religious at all?

My latest novel awaits representation from a literary agent and I believe in the book enough to pursue this route until I find the right one. Plus, I want a wide audience to enjoy a contemporary novel that addresses global imbalances in wealth in a post-COVID world, along with Cold War drama and high-tech espionage. My new novel aims to be current and intriguing, with enough tension to keep you awake, and enough humour to enjoy the literary journey. In the next few posts, I will use extracts from the book to wet your appetites. And, if you are keen, I am looking for a few more Beta Readers to give me feedback.

I feel like a ribbon on a kite

The more I listen to (literary) agents the more I feel like a ribbon on a kite. Which way does the wind blow today?” Many will identify with this comment. After all, one day you Query Letter is not up to the task, the next your word count is too low; another day you chose the wrong sub—genre, and the next you made a grammatical error.

One thing you need to keep reminding yourself is that the ‘answer is blowing in the wind.’ Just hang on to that kite!

Like you, I am hoping that the wind will blow my way. I have published before, have self-published, have a couple of blogs going and believe in the book I have finished enough to stay clinging to the tail of the kite I am chasing!

Ideas bigger than your life!

I came across a wonderful quote recently, by Gloria Gaither. She said, “You need to have ideas bigger than your life.” How profound and how ideal to sum up a writer’s goal. Novels, like paintings, can lift us above the ordinary and create worlds far bigger than our own lives; far longer than our histories and far removed from our world. Thank you, Gloria, for inspiring us to have ‘Ideas bigger than our lives’!

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