Duck for Cover

Duck for cover – the new book cover, that is. After much back and forth with my designer, the final version has come through for my revised first thriller. It looks something like this:

Yes, you are the first ones on the planet to see this new look! It just needs a minor tweak with the sizing and it will be ready to launch. The gap on the lower back cover is for the ISBN, etc. BTW, this is why I don’t recommend self-publishing—I should be spending my time writing and not worrying about book cover design, re-writing, correcting errors, uploading files, etc.

On a Cold and Rainy Day

What to do on a cold and rainy day? I could finish painting the spare bedroom, but the weather is damp and the paint won’t dry very well. I could take my wife out for a coffee, but she is ill and resting. I could keep editing my new book—or, rather, what I call fine-editing since the major editing is finished. No, I need a new inspiration. So, I decide to work on my first book; produce a new cover, revise the first chapter and update the About the Author page. My goal is to have this done in three days. Meanwhile, my darling publisher Amazon have changed their Kindle format from .mobi to .pub, so that requires more work :-). The next day, I have a head cold and don’t feel like doing much at all. But, the weather is warmer and the painting is almost finished. I’m praying for a better week ahead and a new-look to the bedroom as well as my first book. More news to follow if all goes well. {PS: good progress on both the bedroom renovation and book revisions. The text changes are done and have been uploaded to Amazon. Now I am working with my illustrator with final touches to the cover. All will be revealed soon}

The Day of the Jackal Sets a High Bar for Thrillers

Author Lee Child has published 25 thrillers, featuring Jack Reacher, which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.So when he says The Day Of The Jackal is “a year-zero, game-changing thriller, one of the most significant of all time” you listen.

It is 50 years since the book by Frederick Forsyth was published but, in a new introduction to a special anniversary edition, Child says it still feels “luminously fresh and new”.

And no-one is more surprised than Forsyth himself. Not only was it his first novel, but also he tells the BBC: “I’d never written a word of fiction in my life.”

Back in 1970, the former RAF pilot and war correspondent was out of work. “[I was] skint, in debt, no flat, no car, no nothing and I just thought, ‘How do I get myself out of this hole?’ And I came up with probably the zaniest solution – write a novel,” he says.

Forsyth “dashed off” The Day Of The Jackal quickly on an old typewriter in 35 days. It is a gripping tale, set in 1963, about an Englishman hired to assassinate the French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle. But publishers were not interested. After all de Gaulle was very much alive, the mission had obviously failed, so where was the suspense? That, says Child, is the key to its success.

“It had a wholly new approach. It was talking about how things were done, rather than would something succeed. [read more from the BBC here]. PS: I smiled when I read this article and hope that my new thriller is a success because the mission given to the lead character fails to unfold in the way we would expect. (oops, did I give too much away?)

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.

Chapter Expansion

I am a fan of short, crisp chapters. Something that worried me about my first chapter was the length. At 8pp it seemed a bit long, but was held together by the same scene. It must have worried me, because I couldn’t sleep and got up to split the chapter into two. It wasn’t easy, but at least I could now get back to sleep—that is, until I decided to add another chapter to the end of my novel. This is the fun part and why I love writing. By adding another end chapter, I was able to complete a plot circle and connect with an earlier character. It brought some threads together and had the added bonus of giving freedom to my protagonist to enjoy a new, and better, life. This new chapter took my lead character out of the shadows and into the sunshine. I also wanted an ending that finished my novel, yet opened the possibility of another. It goes something like this;

[“This is Maria.”

“Pleased to meet you and thanks for joining us,” I say. She is wearing a wedding ring and I ask, “Is your husband joining us?”

Maria looks away and drops her head. All I can say is, “I’m sorry I asked.”

“It…it’s O.K. He died at sea.”

I change the subject. “Rian, what are we drinking?”

“Ombra, a fine Prosecco from northern Venice.”

“What does ombra mean?” I ask.

“It has a story,” Rian replies. “In Venice, many years ago, a wine merchant set up his cart at the foot of the bell tower in St. Mark’s square. As the day wore on, he moved his cart to stay in the shade and keep his wines cool and fresh for the customers. Ombra means shade or shadow. Here, try some.”

The taste was a burst of refreshing citrus after the hot afternoon. Like the wine seller in Rian’s story, my time at MI6 had been spent chasing shadows.

I raise my glass, “To new friends and a better future.” As I swallow, my eyes meet Maria’s and sunshine fills my soul at last.]

Less Words, Less Crap

I’m revising a paragraph and it doesn’t read well. I take out a complex phrase and, voila, the paragraph flows. Fewer words can energize writing and increase the pace; more words slow it down. When editing, I ask myself:

  1. What descriptive text can I remove, yet retain the setting?
  2. Do I need this action or does it detract from the plot?
  3. Is there a better way to convey this character’s mood?
  4. Can I break a long chapter into two shorter ones?
  5. Does the sentence length vary enough?

A Big Thank You

A big thank you for taking time to check out my humble blog. A thousand views is a big encouragement to help me keep going to find the right literary agent and, eventually, a publisher. Before you congratulate me, among these 1,000 views are a few dedicated followers, including me. Perhaps this blog has had only 750 unique views? Still, it gives me an opportunity to share my writing journey. Yes, I could give up the search for an agent and self-publish again. However, I feel compelled to partner with an agent to help produce a book with a far greater reach. As my professional editor said, “I have a good feeling about this book.” I hope she’s right.

Caution – Tedgerous Editing Ahead

It played on my mind—the need to change a name in my new book. I had chosen Dan as the name of my captain, but realised that a boyhood friend of mine – Ted Cooper – was a much better fit. Ted and I both worked backstage in a high school play; no doubt it was Shakespeare. On the final night we stayed up late and decided to celebrate with a midnight cruise in a small yacht to a volcanic island, just off the mainland. It was a memorable trip across shipping lanes and we felt the freedom of Huckleberry Finn as we ghosted under sail through the night. Unfortunately, our old wooden boat took on water, forcing us to sleep ashore. I will never forget that night, nor my good friend Ted Cooper. We lost contact with each other but I found out that Ted had passed away. He had become a captain in the merchant navy. How appropriate that I should name the captain in my thriller after my good friend.

Editing is simple in Word – use the find and replace all menu and, bingo, the job’s done? No. Here are some of the replacements I discovered:

With double agents, defecting can be Tedgerous = with double agents, defecting can be dangerous

He was petedtic but damned good at his job = He was pedantic but damned good at his job

tedcer = dancer

Guitedce = Guidance

The moral of this post is to be careful when using “replace all” in Word. If you do, going though 100,000 words to find replacement errors can be danious – oops, I mean, tedious.

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 :-).

Editing 101

This may, or may not, help budding writers: What is the best way to edit your manuscript? Here’s my take, based on the experience of two novels:

Step 1: Finish your Manuscript, then throw it aside for a few weeks. Return to it and read it through, noting obvious errors. Each time you step away from your manuscript you come back to it from a fresh perspective. Note: your first draft is always (yes, always) inadequate.

Step 2: Use an Online Editor. I like using prowritingaid or, more recently, grammarly. Both of these help identify issues such as repeated phrases, over-use of adverbs, sentence lengths, etc. I don’t recommend paying a subscription service, unless for a short period (e.g. a month) in order to check your entire manuscript. A feature I liked as the one where (in prowritingaid) where you can compare your style to another author. You may not be a Hemingway fan, but I like the simplicity of checking chapters in the Hemingway app. Here’s an example from my new novel (with the Hemingway result alongside);

Nikolai had a glass in hand and a faraway look. The lighting cast deep shadows in the folds of his face. He seemed angry, or drunk, or both.
“Wow, that’s a stunning photo of the old man and the sea; a perfect Hemingway moment.”
“I read a Hemingway book at school.”
“Which one? He wrote many.”
“The one about an old man and the sea.”
“About catching a big fish?”
“You remember. Yes, a poor fisherman in Cuba had caught nothing for eighty-four days.”
“It’s been that long since I had a boyfriend. How do you know this detail from the novel?”
“Because it was the same number of days as the title of another book I read, called Nineteen Eight Four.”
“Oh, I see what you mean. “Did you like the story about the old man and his fishing?”
“I loved it because it was the shortest novel we had in our English course. I had to learn some quotes for the final exam, such as, ‘Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?'”
“I bet the old man we just saw woke up early.”
“And now, he’s fortified for a long day.” They giggled.
“How old do you think he was?”
“Seventy? Eighty? It was difficult to tell.”
“Where did he go?”
“No idea. I looked at my phone for a bit and missed his exit.”
“You’re always on your phone. If you weren’t married to it you might find a boyfriend.”
“Did you ever have the hots for Hemingway?”
“Course not, I just loved his writing; short, intense, and so easy to read.”
“But you must have lusted after his type; a rugged outdoor man with a bushy beard and all that?”
“No, silly. Even if I had fallen for him, it would be short-lived.”
“Why?”
“He had four wives. His longest marriage was to his writing, and even that had a sad ending.”
“Why sad?”
“He wrote the last chapter of his life. Like his relationships, it was brief.”

Step 3: Join a Writing Circle. This is, I’m my humble opinion, the MOST important step. Get a writing-circle to review your work. This circle should consist of other writers or readers in your genre who will give constructive advice and not hold back on any criticism. For example, one of my fellow writers gave such good feedback that I rearranged my chapter order, changed the ending, and built a more authentic and powerful plot. And I was able to reciprocate and also offer him advice on his new book.

Step 4: Find a Professional Editor. There are many people who have experience in the publishing trade who are happy to review your work. I used one to check my submission trio – the Query Letter, Synopsis, and first three chapters. Their fixes and recommendations were so good that I asked them to check over other key chapters in my novel. What I especially liked was an experienced editor’s positive encouragement with, “I have a good feeling about this book.” Now, I just need a literary agent to agree.

Final Note: Don’t let any of the above steps change your own writing style. Stay true to who you are as a writer and use the steps to improve your style, rather than force it into someone else’s.

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