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Sometimes, thinking positively is the hardest thing in the world to do.

I approached the New Year with a mind full of the best intentions. I was going to continue my lifelong dream of being a published author by putting everything I had into writing and editing the next two or three installments in my Hunter Cade series, plus I was going to develop a new series. I was going to dive into a fitness plan that was not only  going to see me eating more healthily and losing the three stone I managed to put on whilst getting my BA (Hons) in English, but was also going to increase my barely existent self-esteem levels immeasurably. I was going to become the person I always thought I could be, now that I had overcome a mountain full of challenges.

Then January first came.

I felt awful.

I’ve had an ankle injury that wasn’t improving and was making any kind of exercise painful and so therefore, I told myself, I had to wait to start the fitness program I had been so excited to get going in December. I sat down to continue the novel I had begun before the Christmas break and found it impossible to muster up any enthusiasm for it. I love the story. I loved the story. Something wasn’t sitting right in me. What was wrong? I knew it wasn’t bad, so then it must be me. My connection with everything I wanted to achieve this year had somehow been broken between cooking the turkey and listening to the fireworks going off on New Year’s eve. Was I suffering from the January blues? Or did I just not have what it took to take control of my life and make the improvements I wanted to make?

This is the part when I should be telling you how I overcame my dip in motivation, how I became inspired again, or discovered something that put me back on a motivational track. I can’t. I haven’t. I didn’t. As I’m writing this I still can’t grasp the thread of positivity I need to be certain I can achieve my goals for 2015, but I did make a small breakthrough. I realised that good or bad, I was a writer, and the best way to deal with my slump was to write. I had my ankle checked out and I’m fine to exercise so first thing next week I’m adding that to my schedule, I’ve already gone through magazines and cookbooks and found some great, healthy recipes. The work in progress: I’ve learned writing isn’t magical, not on the surface. It’s hard work. It takes commitment and determination and quite often inspiration is a flighty bird you have to actively go out there and catch. You catch it by working. Then the magic creeps in.

I don’t know how this year is going to end, none of us do. But I do know I can control how I let my lack of positivity affect me. So as soon as I’ve finished here I’m going to head straight back to the draft which knocked my confidence, and I’m going to work on it. Taking some inspiration from Hunter Cade, I can control what I do just like I can control who I am.  The January blues, or just a knock in confidence, either way I’m going to continue striving to achieve my goals, battling through the fug until I find the magic.

There. I feel more positive already.

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You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS: Know Your Target Market

By guest writer Atlanta Jackson

The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place

The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place

To write a great book one must be able to write well, but the highest quality writing in the world is still susceptible to business failure. For all the writing talent in the world, selling books is a business and a certain business skill is needed. Marketing, distribution and publicity all need to be considered. This series of articles entitled ‘the Business of Books’ will explore the ways in which independent authors are entrepreneurs, shifting stock and making profits (hopefully).

What one might call their readership is in fact their target market group: every author has a particular demographic in mind when writing or marketing their books. Understanding your TMG is vital to succeeding in any business. It will influence every aspect of your novel. In fact, it should influence every aspect. It’s very easy to disregard the business side of things. ‘Good writing always rises above the rest.’ It can be true, but to minimise the risk of failure (the main goal of any start-up business), an author can’t rely on their writing alone.

Marketing and establishing a brand is a subtle art. It is important to be specific but not to exclude potential customers from your TMG: rather like walking a tightrope. As with many things, a good balance is important to success. Unfortunately a ‘perfect’ balance doesn’t exist. There is no ready-made formula or checklist to decide on your TMG. Instead, one must consider their main demographic: who do you imagine reading your books? Age, gender, race, religion, even income and socio-economic status makes up a demographic. It sounds a lot like discrimination, and in a way it sort of is. But all these factors must be considered to decide on a target market, which will in turn form the basis of all business-related decisions in the future.

Cover design, genre, advertising, even your choice of vocabulary are influenced by your TMG. The readers of a gritty crime novel are more likely to appreciate concise vocabulary, whereas a voyeur of the classics will value a more descriptive lexis. The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place. Reader wants and needs change and the supply and demand of certain products will vary. The wants of your readership are ignored at your peril. After all, the readers are the ones paying and they will only pay for a product they consider quality for the price. Get it right and you will make some loyal customers. These are the ones who buy the next novel in your series, or check for your next books.

Over time, consumer habits change – much like fashion. Nowadays one wouldn’t dream of wearing a shell suit for a quick cup of coffee in Costa. But in the 90’s it was the trend! Almost every reader appreciates a fashionable novel. A new product can enter the market in one of the following two ways: it can be product-orientated, or market-orientated. A product-orientated product enters the market a bit like Bruce Willis: full of swagger, you either take him or leave him. These products sometimes enter the market with no market research done; the entrepreneurs pin their chances of success on the quality of the item. A market-orientated product is well-studied and sensible – the entrepreneur has extensively researched the market and consumer needs and has created a product that the consumers will want. One certainly seems more likely to succeed than the other. You could see product-orientation as rash or even naïve. However, what if I told you that Apple was product-orientated? Yes, the now-billionaire entrepreneurs behind the pioneering Apple sent their brand into the market and simply willed it to sell. One can see the importance of a high-quality and innovative product. But, as usual, you can’t simply decide to product or market orientate your novel. It is hugely important to write what you want to write, but it is also important to incorporate what your potential consumers want. Another example of why knowing your TMG inside and out pays dividends.

Not only does an entrepreneur need to understand their customers… they need to know their competitors too! Armed with a cup of coffee and a computer the author must transform into a modern day Sherlock Holmes, shamelessly Googling their competitor’s websites until their eyes slam shut. From this, one can glean all sorts of marketing information, including how much their product can sell for. A market full of other competitors is saturated. Much like the slightly-overweight referee of a Sunday-league football game on a waterlogged pitch, an entrepreneur can’t get anywhere in a saturated market. With so many already established competitors, how can one small author jostle for market share? It’s almost impossible. It is important to find firm ground where one can eventually compete with market leaders. Right now, I don’t fancy myself getting famous with another Twilight spin-off when a few teen-paranormal-romance novels are commanding total market share. It’s just another way in which the humble author must struggle for the survival of their precious book-baby.

So, we’ve scratched the surface of the entrepreneurial iceberg. It’s true: authors have published their hobby-novel one night and woken up bestsellers, but it’s mostly pure luck. To minimise risk and maximise one’s potential for success, a writer has to unleash their inner entrepreneur: considering their consumers, competitors and market. After all, being a writer is not just sitting at a computer and bashing out words.

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However tempting, don't bin the rough draft. It can be polished.

However tempting, don’t bin the rough draft. It can be polished

Every writer has their own process for creating a novel. I thought it might be interesting  – for me, at least – to analyse the way I construct my manuscripts and what better place to start than at the beginning. So, wa-hey, here comes the Rough Draft.

I began NaNoWriMo in 2006 hoping to develop discipline. I wanted to be a writer from the age of five. Two decades later and I still had not completed an initial draft, let alone a finished manuscript. As it happens, I did get into the habit of writing everyday, making the time because it was important enough to me, adding to my word count, not worrying too much about the technical side of writing but just getting the initial plot down. What was the story? What did I want to say? More importantly, what did my characters want to say? Having the encouragement which comes from being a part of a community of like-minded wordsmiths gave me the motivation to complete my first ever first draft.

It quickly became clear the best way to complete the task of writing a 50,000 word rough draft in four weeks was by getting my butt down on the chair and letting my fingers fly across the keyboard in any manner they wished. I was surprised at the end to find actual, real words and these mutated into proper sentences that basically made sense. It wasn’t the best looking piece of work but it was a workable rough draft and one which proved I had it in me. So no more excuses. If I had achieved it once, I knew I could achieve it again.

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

I don’t plan first, my rough draft becomes a detailed outline, but I do always begin with an idea of the direction I want to move in. For example, for my second novel, my work in progress The Obsidian, I knew I wanted an abandoned hotel to feature, I wanted a strong Art Deco, 1920’s/1930’s theme, and I wanted to extend on a subject which arose in the first book Affliction. I started with a basic mind or cluster map where you take a main word and add branches of ideas, extending on these. They could be genres, movies perhaps that deal with a similar subject, or that I feel have something about them I connect with, themes, quotes, anything that gets the creativity flowing and gives you a simple map to navigate through what is going to be challenging terrain. A useful online mind mapping tool can be found here https://bubbl.us/.

Another useful hint for the rough draft, I picked up whilst watching a TV show about the author Ian Rankin, was to put anything I didn’t know the details for [in square brackets]. I use this a lot during the rough draft process: for names of characters I’ve yet to decide on; descriptions I need to flesh out; research I have yet to do. It allows me to write without losing the flow, my thoughts aren’t given a chance to get waylaid or interrupted.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how grotesque that rough draft is  – and it will be grotesque – I have forced myself not to scrap it. It’s an ugly duckling that with time and effort could become something of beauty (something less ugly at least). Without a rough draft, you have nothing to rewrite. But that’s a story for another time.


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NANOWRIMO – The Baby Book Boom

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In 2006 I decided to participate in a little heard of challenge called National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo to its friends  (http://nanowrimo.org). Five years later I had the rough drafts of five novels completed and the realisation that if I could achieve the mammoth task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I had the discipline needed to one day see my dream of being a published author a reality.

Back in 2006 I had no idea what I was getting myself into – or how addictive it would become. My final published novel is none of the rough drafts I penned for Nano but in essence it is all of them. Certainly the skills I learned by being disciplined, writing for at least two hours every day, using every waking moment when I wasn’t at the computer to plan and plot (ironing and washing up are particularly productive times to do this, something about letting the right side of your brain work subconsciously whilst your left side is occupied) were detrimental in accomplishing the final outcome.

It was hard work. The first week went by pretty easily, I was motivated, excited to be part of a community of lovers of language like myself. By the second week I found my feet dragging slightly, and the third week was really tough. I decided what I had written was nothing better than toilet paper waiting to be printed. My motivation waned. Why continue? I lamented, when all I’m going to have at the end of it is 50,000 words I’m going to scrap.

At week four though, something amazing happened. I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could see myself actually reaching the finishing line – and I would have something at the end of it. It might not be pretty. It certainly wouldn’t be nice. It was like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. Both of them, rolled into one, then given an ugly pill. Primitive is a good way to describe the Nano novel – or rough draft, because that is effectively what we are talking about, a rough draft, possibly little more than a detailed outline. By the end of November I had a finished rough draft, 50,000 words of a complete story I would never have had had I not challenged myself in this way.

Every published book had to start somewhere

Every published book had to start somewhere

Nine years later and my dream has come true. My debut novel AFFLICTION (http://www.amazon.co.uk/AFFLICTION-Hunter-Cade-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00NGOXY3M) was published in September 2014 via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, but it probably never would have come to this if I hadn’t jumped feet first into the crazy, fast-paced, sometimes teary, oftentimes exhilarating experience of National Novel Writing Month. It’s taken several years developing the story and re-writing, editing till my fingers had blisters and my eyes blurred, but I’m pleased with what I ended up with. It’s easy to give up when things don’t seem to be going well, but getting that rough draft written is the best thing you can do for your novel. Because without it you have nothing to edit, nothing to polish, nothing to prove to yourself you had it in you all the time.

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With Halloween approaching, my thoughts turned from the usual most interesting ways to murder someone (for fictional purposes only) to my second favourite thing to get excited about – abandoned locations. There’s something about the inherent beauty of a decaying hotel, the earthy scent of long forgotten cellars, the colourful spray paint spelling out equally colourful vocabulary on crumbling brick walls that gets my heart racing.

Is it the distant echo of a long forgotten past reverberating down empty corridors, or the spine-tingling sensation of some ethereal being looking out through grime-obscured windows that does it for urban explorers and ghost hunters alike? Or the sense of history on the cusp of being lost that inspires documentation of these often disregarded time capsules?

I suspect it’s all of these things plus a sense of romanticism, and reminiscence that subconsciously makes us remember our own mortality. Either way, I thought it might be fun to share my top 5 abandoned locations which may or may not be haunted.

1: Poveglia Island – not open for tourists which scuppers my plans of visiting but I’ll settle for the time being on repeatedly watching the episode of Ghost Adventures in which the crew take on this abandoned plague island. Located in the Venetian lagoon, Northern Italy, this wonderful island has had a colourful and poignant history having twice been used as a quarantine station. In the 1920’s some of the existing buildings were also converted into an asylum for the mentally unstable.

2: Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Kentucky, USA is purportedly one of the most haunted (if not the most haunted) place on earth. Originally a wooden construction, the imposing brick hospital was constructed in 1924 and opened in 1926. A self-contained community for patients with tuberculosis, Waverly Hills was closed in the early sixties after a treatment for TB rendered it obsolete. It was reopened as a Geriatric Sanitarium where alleged patient abuse caused it to close twenty years later.

3: Pripyat in the Ukraine is a city abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a real glimpse of what the world would be like post an apocalypse. A much photographed landmark is the Ferris wheel located in the amusement park, see http://news.distractify.com/culture/arts/the-most-spectacular-abandoned-places-in-the-world/ and check out this website further for its collection of breathtaking images of some of the most haunting abandoned locations in the world including an underwater city, abandoned railway stations and an auditorium that opened on the same day the Titanic sunk.

4: West Park Mental Hospital in the UK, see http://www.abandoned-britain.com/PP/westpark/1.htm for some amazing images, was opened in 1923. With beds still remaining in some of the wards, paintings still visible on the walls of the hospital’s nursery, and a burned out ballroom you can’t help but feel the presence of the many people who once walked within its walls.

5: Chadderton Swimming Baths, UK – a derelict Art Deco swimming pool – was opened in 1937 and closed in 2006. I stumbled across this location whilst perusing 28 Days Later, http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/, my favourite Urban Exploration site and the source of much inspiration when I’m sketching out locations for my novels. There’s something about abandoned swimming baths I find interesting, I guess its the amazing architecture and the fact they have been visited by numerous people who I almost imagine I can see and hear hurtling off the tiled side into the water, screaming with delight. For more images of heart-wrenchingly beautiful decaying public baths check out http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2476434/ and you’ll see what I mean.

Abandoned asylums, abandoned hospitals, abandoned hotels; abandoned fairgrounds and amusement parks, theaters and swimming baths; ruins underwater and ruins underground; derelict locations which look best from the air; crumbling, peeling, contemporary archeology. There is plenty of inspiration in the derelict and decaying debris of recent past human existence to keep a writer in location ideas for more than one lifetime.

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If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say the best way to become a better writer is to read, I’d have more money than I could ever hope to make through being an author. It seems to be the default response to the question: how do you become a better writer? I doubt many bestselling authors – or even vaguely successful ones – got that way by reading alone. I suspect they write prolifically.

Reading is like sitting in a classroom being taught to restore cars. In theory you know what you’re doing, but aren’t your fingers just itching to get on a screwdriver, hammer, or spray painter? Aren’t you dreaming about the smell of real leather interior over the dusty stink of a photo in an old manual?

Writing is the equivalent of being allowed onto the workshop floor, inhaling the stench of grease whilst your hand slides across the smooth, cool, freshly painted body, or stripping out the old bits that can’t be fixed and polishing up the rusty bits that can to a high shine.

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Yes, you may make mistakes, but the hands-on approach has to be the best way to improve. You can always refer back to the study material when needed. Reading makes you a better reader, but writing makes you a better writer. Reading is important – very important – and fun, but there can be no substitute for time spent crafting your own words.

And never underestimate the power of having a qualification. I’m not talking about taking a course in creative writing, although this can be inspiring, but a proper qualification that also gives you something to fall back on if the writing doesn’t take off. I have learned so much from my BA(hons) in English Language and Literature that although I have always wanted to be a writer, I know now I can give it my best shot. I estimate that I must have produced upwards of 40,000 words in final assignments over the four years it took (not including the draft versions).

Anyone can be an writer, it’s true, you don’t need more than the inkling of an idea and the ability to string words together to forge ahead with constructing a book, but if you are serious about building the foundations of a long career, and care about what your readers are getting, you have to take the job seriously and invest time learning all you can about language and how to apply it to your chosen genre. This is best achieved by getting your butt down on a chair/or sofa/or futon if you prefer, and letting the words flow.

Reading lots of books isn’t enough. You have to write to get better at writing. Anything. Blogs; tweets; short stories; full length novels you end up binning because you know they’re so bad that’s the best place for them; reviews. All words are good. Work your apprenticeship but don’t think this is enough, even when you have your first, second, third, twentieth book out there, know you will still have much to learn. Be open to this. Writing is a beautiful thing. It deserves your full attention.

But that’s easier said than done, you might say, I’ve said it enough in my time. But where does the inspiration come from? Inspiration comes from everywhere. Music, television, photographs, people, quotes, books etc. It’s all about the story. I find something piques my interest, I can’t get the thought out of my head and over time it grows into something I have to explore further.

The flip side of this is that I quite often write when I’m not inspired. If you want to work as a writer for a living, you have to be able to do this. Stephen King said it best when he said: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (Stephen King, On Writing: A memoir of the craft). I think that sums it up. Sometimes inspiration is something you make happen when you sit down at the computer faced with a blank page and just have faith the words will flow and you will be able to edit them into something you are happy with. But that will only happen if you actually, physically, write.

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