Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Promoting your work

Paula K. Randall

Promoting your printed book.

If you're going to self-publish, then you're going to have to think about your own marketing and distribution. If you've self published a hard copy, perhaps as print on demand, then you're going to have to consider issues such as storage (even on print on demand you still need to be able to provide inspection copies), who you're going to get to stock it, and how you're going to reach them. If you have an obliging local independent bookseller you may be given a launch, and this will enable you to get your name out there and make some sales. But quite how you reach further than that is simply down to how much time and effort you're prepared to put into travelling and approaching other booksellers. Don't expect Waterstones or WH Smith's to bite your hand off and pile them up in their doorway. Publishers pay booksellers a lot of money to push their books under the noses of potential buyers, and you're not going to be in that game.

Using Social Media

If you've published an e-book, then you'll probably have heard or read about the power of social marketing, such as Twitter and Facebook. Well, as far as I know, I've sold one book through Twitter. And if you're a Twitter user, you'll probably already be aware of the amount of publicity that some writers try and generate to publicise their books, banging out tweet after tweet, bombarding you with endless tales of how wonderful and exciting their book is. Well, it might be. But have you read it? No. So what makes you think anyone is going to read yours? The same goes for Facebook. This is because blatant advertising is just annoying.

So just how do you make social media work for you? Well, the first answer is, with difficulty. The second is, with a lot of effort. And the time to start making that effort is actually before you publish your book.

Now, to be honest, I'm not really very good at this myself. However, I thought I'd share with you some things that have worked for me, and some things that could work if I put more into it.

The first thing you need to do is start chatting. Join a number of forums (or fora, I should probably say). These can be forums of writers (though to be honest, these are less likely to get you readers, because everyone there is on the same mission). Do you have any other interests? Photography? Knitting? Car maintenance? The forum that got me the most readers initially is one I've been chatting on for years, so I have a relationship of sorts with the other people on it. That gave me a couple of hundred potential readers. Not enough, but a good start. And that forum is nothing at all to do with writing, though I did discover that there are a couple of other writers on there. But the thing is, you have to give before you get. And on that site I've both given and received advice on all sorts of things, from what sort of towels to put in a holiday let, to how to optimise your website visibility. Even the copy I sold through Twitter happened because I began a conversation with someone because I noticed he lived in a very attractive place. I wasn't initially looking to sell him my book.

And that's the next thing, get a blog, a website, an author page on Facebook, on Google+. It doesn't matter if you haven't got all of them, but you need a web presence of some sort. When I was developing my website to advertise my holiday property I got myself on to all sorts of lists. And you can do the same for your book. At the end of this post I'll list some of the sites you can look at that will give you some coverage. One of the things I've done is write articles for an e-magazine called e-zine articles. At the end of the articles you can add your 'signature', which will include reference to your published work. Two of my articles have then been syndicated across a wide range of e-magazines. I don't know how much good it's done me – unfortunately there's no way of measuring – but it keeps putting my name in front of people.

Get your book reviewed. This is probably one of the most useful things you can do. There are a number of review sites (I haven't actually done this yet) who will review your book. The downside is, of course, that they may give you a bad review. The other downside is that they get an enormous number of requests for reviews so it can be months before they get round to you. Some sites will do it more quickly for payment. Others will do it for an exchange review. Either way it's worth pursuing some of these sites.

Something else you can do is get on other people's blogs. Begin by writing comments. Then offer to do a blog post. But it has to be something useful that you're offering. For instance, you could offer to do a review, either of the blog owner's book or of a book that's recently been published. Or offer to write on a subject related to the main theme of the blog. If you have a blog or a website, invite others to do a guest spot. Even if they don't host you in return they'll tell their readers about their guest spot on your blog, and some of them will then find out about you.

Join Goodreads. This works in a rather complex way, and I'm still feeling my way round it. It's really a site for readers, not writers, but by definition a writer needs readers! You need to do a lot of reviewing of published work before your own book starts to get noticed, but a lot of people have done very well from it. If nothing else you'll read some good recommendations for your own reading pleasure. At the bottom I give a couple of links to information that should help you understand how to use it as a writer.

Give stuff away. Don't expect the rewards to be always immediate or direct. For instance, I gave away a short story for an anthology of crime stories relating to the publishing industry. As a result, not only will my name be before readers of that anthology, with links to my novel on Amazon, but an unexpected return was that I was then interviewed for a blog with a very wide readership. See the link here:

Enter competitions. Even if you don't win, some competitions publish all entries, and they'll allow you to provide a link to either your blog, your Facebook page, or even directly to the means of purchasing your book.

The main message I'm giving here is that your marketing has to be subtle, but unrelenting and you need to use a range of techniques. Simply telling people that you've written this fantastic book won't get you very far. You also need to give something away first, and take the time to develop a relationship with your potential readers. Unless you have thousands of friends who're all just champing at the bit to read your work. Or you're already famous for something else. If your name's Jamie Oliver or Kirstie Allsopp, you have a blueprint to sell loads of copies, but otherwise……

Something I haven't got round to trying yet, but I intend to, is to read some extracts of your book to You Tube. You could even serialise it that way if you wanted. Or just read some short stories. Don't forget to include a link to any published work.

Printed or other conventional forms of marketing.

Don't forget more traditional forms of promoting your work. A review in the local paper can sometimes be the start of something bigger. If your local paper has a book review section, send a hard copy (if you have one) to the editor of that page. If you don't have a hard copy, will one of your friends write a review for you? Editors are busy people, and sometimes they're grateful for a press release to fill up an empty slot. Sometimes they don't want it themselves but will pass it on. As a result of one press release that didn't get published I was recently interviewed by the features editor of another paper with a much wider circulation, because the first recipient passed it on.

What about local radio? My local radio runs a series on local women of interest, and I was not only interviewed for that section, but invited to read extracts from the novel as well.

Whatever you decide, you will need to find the time and effort to really work at it. I wish you the very best of luck.

List of useful promotional sites:
And two sites to introduce you to using Goodreads: (I've just bought this)

If you're interested in writing articles: (and here are links to a couple of my articles on there to give you an idea how it works. and,-Rather-Than-Tell&id=7929107)

A site where writers help promote other writers:

And a list of free sites to promote your work:

Monday, 18 November 2013



I was lucky enough to have Sarah Bower as my mentor on a year-long ‘Apprenticeship in Fiction’ scheme, which I undertook a few years ago.  She combined rigorous feedback on my writing with encouraging and realistic guidance, based on her vast experience as a writer and teacher.  In the following piece she discusses why writers need to develop the skills of critical reading.


Striptease with Emily Bronte

Adapted from an article originally published in Words With Jam

‘Of course, you’ll never read for pleasure again,’ opined one of my predecessors on the UEA Creative Writing MA when I told her I had a place. (Writing for pleasure, it was understood, was not something either of us did because it’s damn hard work.)

I do still enjoy reading, but my fellow novelist had a point. You can’t write if you don’t read. Whether or not creativity can be taught isn’t for discussion here, but there’s no doubt you need certain technical skills if you are to be creative. You can’t embroider if you don’t know your chain stitch from your blanket stitch, and you can’t build furniture if you have no idea how to dovetail. There are just such basic skills needed to write fiction, and one of them is the ability to read ‘properly’. This means reading with analytical care and precision, weighing a book, not just as a whole work, but sentence by sentence, word by word if need be, excavating its bones to find out precisely how it’s put together.

Why is this skill useful to the writer? I have had students who said they never read at all. At best, they don’t have time to read because they’re too busy writing. Well, let’s take a step back and ask what it is that makes us become writers. Words are for the writer what images are for the painter, a way of making sense of the world, of attempting to arrive at the essential truths that drive human behaviour. If writers invest words with such power, it surely makes sense for the beginning writer to read other people’s words and see how they have gone about the task on which she is about to embark.

I suspect some of those who don’t read are driven by arrogance, by a sense that what they have to say is so original that no other writer’s work can have any relevance for them. Others, however, who are not only humbler but more conscientious and, in my view, more likely to succeed, fear that too much reading will inhibit their ability to develop an individual voice and style of their own. Of course you’ll be influenced by writing which evokes a strong response in you, whether you despair at ever being able to approach such brilliance yourself or vow to go out and shoot yourself if you end up writing like…insert your own bĂȘte noir here. But there’s nothing wrong with influences. All artists acknowledge influences; it’s a way of expressing gratitude to those who have inspired us and of locating our work in the canon.

At the outset of your writing career you might think locating yourself in the canon is hubristic, but it is, in fact, a practical thing to do. If, for example, your strength and preference lies in writing plot driven stories, with a lot of twists and turns, cliff hangers and shock endings, it will be useful for you to read other writers whose work includes these features. Put that way, you can see immediately what a broad category this is, embracing everyone from Ian McEwan to James Patterson, Val McDiarmid to John Le Carre. Where are you on the spectrum? The best way to find this out is to read as widely as you can until you discover the writer or writers whose work speaks most directly to you. This will help you, not only in developing your own style but also, further down the line, in thinking about how to market your work. ‘Thomas Harris meets J. K. Rowling in this gripping tale of cannibalism and magic in an English public school’ may not actually get you an agent or a publisher…well, it might…

So let’s look at what good critical reading entails. For me, and perhaps for you, it began early. Family legend has it I drove my parents to distraction by insisting they read me the same bedtime stories over and over again. If they tried to jump the odd page or paragraph in order to get to their evening gin and tonic more quickly I would pick them up because I knew the text by heart and could spot their subterfuge. The enjoyment of re-reading has stayed with me. I re-read Wuthering Heights every year and still marvel at Heathcliff’s impassioned rage against the dead Cathy for leaving him behind. In my teens I became so entranced by Virginia Woolf’s The Waves I began transcribing whole passages of it in my journal. I’ve gone on doing this throughout my writing life, the last time being a passage about heartbreak from Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate in the translation by Robert Chandler. Copying out extracts of novels, stories or poems helps you to engage with them in a much more intimate way than you do by merely reading them. It feels, to me, like a process of ‘undressing’ the text, or perhaps, even, of peeling away its skin to reveal its inner workings.

But why do this? As a writer, if you read something which blows you away, you instinctively start to work out how it was done. Copying out another writer’s words, which means reading them slowly, savouring them and analysing how they’re strung together, can reveal how they’ve achieved the effect that has moved you so powerfully. Copying – as long as you do it in the privacy of your personal journal – is a good way to begin to train yourself to become a good critical reader. It forces you to slow down; if you’re copying, you can’t skim. It also helps in committing passages to memory, ready for you to dredge up when you need them as guidance.

Becoming a good critical reader doesn’t take the pleasure out of reading, it intensifies it. Total immersion in marvellous writing is ecstatic – humbling, but also inspirational. It reminds me, not just of the difficulty of the task the novelist sets herself, but also of why it’s worth continuing the struggle.

Sarah Bower is a prize-winning novelist and short story writer. Her novels, THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and the international bestselling SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA (originally published in the UK as THE BOOK OF LOVE) have been translated into nine languages. She has written short fiction for magazines, anthologies and radio.

Sarah has taught creative writing for over ten years, at the University of East Anglia, the Open University and the Unthank School of Writing. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she is currently based in her role as co-ordinator of the mentorship scheme for literary translators run by the British Centre for Literary Translation. She will be writer in residence at Lingnan University in Hong Kong from January to May 2014.

You can follow Sarah on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Wicked Game - A review

As we've talked quite a lot about the process of writing, I thought it might be useful to look at a particular book. This novel falls mainly in the thriller category, so you might like to read it in the light of Adrian Magson's comments about the differences between crime and thriller. Also it's a cracking read!
Later on I'll review a police procedural.

Wicked Game,

By Adam Chase

This is a fast-paced, page turning tale of espionage and conspiracy. The main character, known colloquially as ‘Hex’, initially comes as a surpise, in that he is himself what could loosely be called a villain. Operating as a paid assassin, Hex has few qualms about his victims. However, like all well-drawn main characters, his conscience begins to assert itself as the plot develops.

The opening of the novel is dramatic and intriguing, but quite early on Hex commits a fatal error: he lets someone live. Someone who shouldn’t have been there. And who is going to cause problems.

Turning to his old mentor for advice he finds himself drawn into a nightmarish conspiracy to develop weapons for biological warfare. In the time-honoured tradition of the genre, Chase conjures up a world of espionage and counter espionage, where no-one  does what’s expected of them, where trusted friends betray and allies come from unanticipated sources.

If there is a criticism it’s that, for a self-avowed professional hitman, Hex commits quite a few errors of judgement, including one early on that had me almost shouting at him! But then, he is under stress.

All In all, if you like spies and confusion, if you enjoy the sand constantly shifting beneath your feet, you’ll enjoy this.  Mr. Chase creates a horrifying spectacle of future warfare that one hopes is still largely in his imagination. But….you read it here first!

Available on Amazon as hardback or for Kindle:

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Historical Headaches 3 – Present tense or past?


I recently read an interesting forum discussion, which started in 2005, on the pros and cons of writing in the present tense.

A wide range of opinions, often contradictory, was aired about the virtues and vices of using the present tense as the main narrative tense in fiction writing. One viewpoint in particular made me wince, from Emma D, as I recognised that I was guilty of having used the present tense as a superficial device to provide more ‘immediacy’ in a novel about a siege during the English Civil War. My editing and re-writing had not examined fully enough the effects of the change of tense (I had originally written it in the past) and I realise that it would have been preferable to have worked harder on sharpening the style of the original draft. I cringe when I think of how I simply converted the text. If I felt it was dull I should have found ways of enlivening it!

The general advice seems to be as follows:

· Readers of genre fiction are less keen on a present tense narrative

· The use of the present tense has to be a justifiable and deliberate literary choice integrated with the writer’s voice

· The present tense appears superficially easier to use, but in fact requires more skill than the more ‘traditional’ past tense narrative style

· The tense often isn’t noticed if the novel is engaging enough for the reader

Evidence of the complex ways in which successful writers use the present and other tenses can be found in three examples of historical novels. As always, the more you examine writing strategies, the more complicated they reveal themselves to be!

Sarah Bower, in The Needle in the Blood provides an accomplished model of the use of the present a a consistent narrative tense, with such seamless fluency that the reader is almost unaware of this deliberate choice of tense. The dialogue is particularly well handled and avoids the awkward repetitious ‘she says’, ‘he says’ which somehow seem more glaring in present tense narratives.

Julian Barnes in Arthur and George weaves present and past tenses with great subtlety. The switching seems to reinforce various aspects of the narrative and the characterisation. For example, the narrative dealing with George’s childhood and youthful experiences are conveyed in the present and seem to indicate his inability to recall and reflect upon his early experiences, the limitations of his imagination and his simplicity and naivety. The parallel narrative from the young Arthur’s point of view, provides an interesting contrast, reflecting his intelligence and insight and is notably told in the past tense. Later in the novel, switches in tenses mark changes of events and pace and produce greater or lesser degrees of intensity and immediacy in the characters’ experiences. In the hands of a less skilful writer, these techniques would be very risky!

In Burial Rites Hannah Kent often conveys the condemned woman Agnes Magnusdottir’s thoughts and reflections in the present, which seems to provide a deepening presentation of her character, strengthening the reader’s sympathy for her. Past tense and present tense are sometimes interwoven, for example in Chapter 2, where Agnes’s awareness of her physical state is integrated with her narrative of her removal from prison to the farm where she is to be held until her execution.

They have taken me from the room and put me in irons again. This time they sent an officer of the court, a young man with pocked skin and a nervous smile. He’s a servant from Hvammur, I recognised his face. When his lips broke apart I could see that his teeth were rotting in his mouth. His breath was awful, but no worse than my own: I know I am rank. I am scabbed with dirt and the accumulated weeping of my body:blood, sweat, oil. I cannot think of when I last washed. My hair feels like a greased rope: I have tried to keep it plaited, but they have not allowed me ribbons, and I imagine that to the officer I looked like a monstrous creature. Perhaps that is why he smiled.

It could all have been related in the past, but the intensity of Agnes’s suffering might in this case have become more distanced. Her telling of the events allows her narrative to slide naturally into the recent past with the perfect tense, have taken, have tried, have not allowed and into the simple past, sent, recognised, broke and, later in the novel, into the more distant past, using past perfect and simple past as she recalls events and recounts them to other characters. Agnes’s point of view is thus presented in a stylistically complex way, which is reflective of the complexity of her character. The points of view of the other major characters are presented as more straightforward past tense narratives.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

WivWords 12/13 October 2013

Writing can open up new doors for many of us. This summer both Sue Dawes and I have become involved with the WivWords festival, having been co-opted onto the committee by our mutual friend Petra McQueen. This is what Petra has said about the event:-

 'Wiv Words' is Wivenhoe's own literary festival that will take place on October 12th and 13th. It will be an unstuffy celebration of local talent. There are talks, walks, workshops, theatre, comedy and poetry events. There are events for children, teenagers and adults. The weekend will culminate on Sunday night with a show by John Cooper Clarke and Martin Newell.

As well as being a writer and active member of the committee, Sue describes herself as a jewellery-crafter and lover of all things hand-made. You will be able to see some of her work at the Paperformance exhibition in William Loveless Hall during the weekend, and also at Cutting Corners Picture Framing, situated in Wivenhoe Business Centre, Brook Street, Wivenhoe. Here there will be a small exhibition of jewellery created using book pages, paper and other materials.
 I have been asked to speak at the Voice of Wivenhoe Women event to be held on Saturday evening at Open Space, also in the Business Centre, Brook Street, Wivenhoe. This will give an opportunity revisit some of the women interviewed by Charmaine McKissock over the four series of Wivenhoe Women, broadcast on Radio Wivenhoe since 2012. I believe Sue Dawes has now been interviewed too. The recordings, which are fascinating to hear, are still available on a play-back facility. I was one of the earlier interviewees and found the whole experience very revealing. Charmaine brought something out in each of us with her charming and clever interview techniques. The spoken word rather than the written word gave added insight.
I have been delighted to contribute to the on-going Writing Relay organised by Broomgrove Infant School in Wivenhoe. Alexander McCall Smith kindly provided a starter paragraph which has been added to in turn by various school groups, businesses and local townspeople. My page was written on behalf of The Wivenhoe Surgery. It was a challenge to read a story developed by others and then continue it, providing continuity as well as giving somewhere for the plot to go - a very different experience from creating ones own plot and I can’t wait to read the end of the story. I do hope it will be available for us all to read in due course.
The Shed writers group, based at the Wivenhoe Bookshop have organised a 60 word writing competition. Now here’s another challenge, open to all, to write a 60 word piece (prose or poetry) containing the word ‘shed’. Why not give it a go? The entry form will be available at the bookshop throughout the weekend of the festival and four winners chosen by November 4th. I hope we might be allowed to publish their words on this blog shortly after.
So writing and word related projects are springing up all over the place, raising money for the Mayor's charities, and many published writers will be giving talks and workshops over the two days of the festival. Anyone seeking ideas and inspiration for their writing should have a look at the full programme on the Mayor’s website; or pick up a printed version from Wivenhoe Bookshop, 23 High Street, Wivenhoe CO7 9BE.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Going round in circles

Are you a writer? Is there any particular way in which you like to kick-start your novels (or short stories)? I'm not sure if I always start the same way. Sometimes it's with an incident that then grows into a longer story. Sometimes it's with the victim, and sometimes I start by thinking of the perpetrator first. Certainly that's what I'm doing in my second novel, Washed in the Blood.

But I asked established crime writer, Margot Kinberg, to talk to us about her methods. Here's what she said.

Will it Go Round in Circles?*

Thanks so much for inviting me to guest-post – I’m honoured. One of the challenges writers face is taking all of those creative ideas that always seem to pop up at either 2 am, or in the middle of a traffic jam, and putting them into some kind of coherent story.  Every writer handles this differently, so I can only share the way I go about it. But here’s how the process works for me.

I write crime fiction, so in my stories, there’s invariably at least one murder, and at least one murder victim. And that’s where I always start. Who’s the victim? What is that person like?  I’ve gotten inspiration from many places for the kind of person who would make a good victim. There really is no set pattern there, at least for me. But once I decide on who the victim is, then I get to work on setting up the story.

One way to look at the way I do things is a set of circles. First, of course, there’s the smallest circle around the victim. What is her or his personality? What is that person’s background?  What about that person might drive someone to murder?  Once I know the victim a little, it’s time for the next circle: the victim’s close friends, family and so on.

In that second circle is where you often find the suspects in a murder mystery, so that’s where I start adding in people who may have something to gain by killing the victim. In one of my stories, for instance, my victim has something valuable that one suspect wants. Another suspect feels threatened by something the victim knows. Another is obsessed with the victim. Well, you get the idea. This is also the place where one can add in another circle for the people the victim comes into occasional contact with – sort of an ‘outer circle’ of people. Those are people who can give an interesting perspective on the victim and certainly could be suspects.

Then I add another circle, separate from the victim’s – the sleuth’s circle. After all, it’s hard to do a crime novel if nobody tries to solve the crime. My sleuth is Joel Williams, a former cop, now a university professor of criminal justice. He has his own circle, including his wife, his contacts at the police department, his university colleagues, his students, and so on. Those circles are important (at least to me) because my sleuth is not a cop or PI. So he doesn’t have any official reason to be investigating anything. And nobody is required to tell him anything. That means that one of his circles has to overlap with one of the victim’s circles.

Let me give an example. In one of my stories, my sleuth is working on a research project with two colleagues. In the process of that research they uncover a ‘cold case’ that leads to a not-so-cold murder. In this case, that research circle overlaps with one of the first victim’s circles. That step, as I say, is perhaps less of a critical issue for police procedurals or PI novels, where the sleuth is supposed to investigate. That’s what cops and PIs are paid to do.

Once I have my circles set up, I outline the action in the story. I add in things such as where things happen, how exactly Joel Williams gets involved, and who has critical information for the case. With that rough structure in place, it’s time for the details.

One thing I like about this approach is that it allows for flexibility. It lets the writer put in as many or as few characters as needed. The story can take place at any time, in any place, and feature just about any kind of victim. So there’s a lot of ‘wiggle room.’

I also like the way the circles encourage me to add character development and sub-plots. As I look at each circle I see opportunities to sketch in things such as people’s home lives, minor characters and the other details that make a story (hopefully!) more interesting.

Circles don’t work for everyone of course. More than anything else I believe that each writer has to find her or his own way to frame ideas and get those ideas written. But as for me? Yeah, I go around in circles. ;-)

Many thanks again for hosting me!! Please feel free to get in contact with me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) if you want to connect.

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Billy Preston song, co-written with Bruce Fisher.

Margot Kinberg is the author of the Joel Williams mystery series. She blogs at

Monday, 16 September 2013

Historical Headaches (2) – The Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction


Creating the voice of your character – Using the First Person

Using a first person narrator can create an immediate impact on the reader by establishing a clear and identifiable voice and creating empathy and/or interest.  For example, Rose Tremain in very few words, wittily conveys the essence of the character of Kirsten Munk, Consort of 17th century King Christian IV of Denmark, via her private papers.

Well, for my thirtieth birthday, I have been given a new Looking-glass which I thought I would adore. I thought I would dote upon this new Glass of mine. But there is an error in it, an undoubted fault in its silvering, so that the wicked object makes me look fat. I have sent for a hammer

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain

   The limitations of first person narrative are well documented, the principal ones being problems of plotting, requiring imaginative ways of providing information which the narrator does not directly experience but needs to know. However, there are many examples of highly successful first person narrators in the works of accomplished writers of historical fiction. 

A first person narrator can vividly convey his/her personality, social status and attitudes. Even in the narrative sections, such as the character’s reflections, as well as in direct speech and dialogue, the writer can include a range of linguistic features such as the cadence of the speech, dialect and accent. Jane Harris in The Observations, set in 19th century Scotland, creates an immediately striking voice for Bessy, a young fugitive prostitute. Her early encounters quickly establish her as a gutsy, worldly, hardened but sympathetic character.

I have to admit there was one added factor in my desire to leave the Great Road and that was the pair of polis that was coming towards us on horseback. Big buckers by the look of them. I had spotted them in the distance five minutes back, their top hats and big buttons, and ever since I had been looking for a way off the road, one that didn’t involve me running across a field and getting mucked up to the oxters.

So I stopped walking and turned to the Jocky. ‘This is where I go off,’ I says, pointing as the sign to the castle.

‘I fwill be coming with you,’ he says. ‘Hand you can be making me dinner. Hand hafterwards fwhee can be making a baby.’

‘What a good idea,’ says I and when he stepped forward as if to kiss me I grabbed his danglers and give them a twist. ‘Make you own babies,’ I says. ‘Now away and flip yourself.’

Off I went up the lane and when he followed me I gave him a shove and a few more flips offs and stamped on his bare foot and that was the last I seen of him, for a while, anyway.

The style successfully combines standard English narrative with some dialect expressions oxters and slang mucked up; danglers; flip as well as the non-standard spelling polis to indicate Bessy’s pronunciation. In addition, the phonetic spelling of the Highland boy’s accent represents Bessy’s contempt for him. Non-standard grammar is used in give them a twist and that was the last I seen of him and the conversational he says and I says which creates a sense of her speech style and social class. Her courage and skills of self-preservation are clear in her response to the potential threats to her safety and freedom as a vagrant.

First person narratives also seem to allow smoother transitions into back story, as the main character, who is often telling the story of his/her life at a later date, can include past events. In Witch Light, Susan Fletcher captures the personality of Corrag, a wild young girl awaiting trial for witchcraft in 17th century Scotland, as in her cell she reflects on her life.

I say it – look. Witch.....And my breath clouds so the word is white, rolls out.

I have tried to not mind it. I’ve tried so hard.

I have tried to say it does not hurt, and smile. And I can reason that witch has been a gift, in its way – for look at my life.... Look at the beauty that witch has brought me to. Such pink-sky dawns, and waterfalls, and long, grey beaches with a thundering sea, and look what people I met – what people! I’ve met some sovereign lives. I’ve met wise, giving, spirited lives which I would not have done, without witch. What love it showed me, too. No witch, and I would not have met the man who made me think him, him, him - all the time. Him, who tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. Him who said you....

The narrative intersperses the present, her breath as she speaks, clouding in the cold air of her prison cell, then moves to her inner reflections and the life of a woman shunned as a witch. Corrag’s recollections of her wild and isolated life reveal her suffering but also her resilience and the pleasures she has derived. The prose has poetic qualities: repetition of words and phrase patterns, images of colour, simple language, which create a sense of otherwordliness about her character.

Another advantage of using the first person, is the way that it enables the writer and then the reader to enter the inner world of the character, to share in his/her emotional life, to see and judge other people and events from his/her perspective. It can also convey a ‘confessional’ relationship with the reader and some writers do this explicitly when the narrator addresses the reader directly in the second person ‘you’. In some cases the use of a naive or unreliable first person narrator can create humour or tragic dramatic irony. 

I had always shied away from using the first person, but decided to try it in my third novel The Conjuror’s Truth, as a way of responding to feedback on my heroines in earlier novels, which suggested that they were not characterised strongly enough, nor were they engaging the readers’ interest sufficiently. I also, perhaps unwisely, experimented with the present tense, to increase the tension and immediacy of my heroine’s situation.  

The Conjuror’s Truth

Chapter 1 Welstead, Essex, August 1698

We are three weeks wed and still he has not touched me. Mary has told me what a woman must endure to do her duty to God and to her husband, but though there is a good bedchamber upstairs and I have taken care about my person, he does not come to me. Instead he sleeps upon a couch in his study next to the parlour. I hear him sometimes at night, pacing below, his feet shuffling upon the flagstones. A light flickers at the foot of the stairs where he pauses awhile and then there is darkness again.

I do not know how I should speak to him, we being so little in each other’s company and so poorly acquainted. How can I discover my husband’s humours, his likes and dislikes or share in his thoughts and opinions? My husband? How can I even claim him as such? He is not mine in any way, save by a bond of law, which has not tied our hearts or minds nor our bodies together. God has ordained that the holy union of marriage is for the procreation of children and my husband is a godly man who does not shirk his duties. Why therefore does he deny this one? I have no one to turn to, to confide in or from whom I might seek counsel. Mary is now so far away and my husband and I are strangers in this new town. I can do nothing but bear this shameful puzzlement with patience and try what is in my power to please him.

I was faced with the challenge of sustaining interest in the character and her traumas and adventures, which I think I managed through a fairly action-packed plot. The plot is a little extreme and one reader’s feedback indicated less satisfaction with the romantic hero, though as always the responses of readers were pretty variable and sometimes contradictory.

Now, as I prepare to start my next novel, I am in a quandary and although I have plenty of ideas about the setting and some events, I have not settled on a strong or interesting enough main character and wonder whether to try first or third person. I suppose that there is no way of knowing other than by launching forth and then re-writing if the chosen approach does not work!

Writing does not become easier. The more I do it, the more I am aware of potential pitfalls and the gulf between what I aspire to achieve and the reality of what I produce! 


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Do you need a track record?

One of the best pieces of advice I received on my MA course was to get a track record (or writing credit) before sending any work to an agent.  For me this meant taking the plunge and entering short story competitions, even though what I really needed to do was finish my novel. 

Was it worth it?  In short, yes because not only am I able to show agents that I am serious about my writing but also that my writing has been judged, on its quality, by others in the profession.  I believe it is the difference between having your submission read quickly and it ending up in the proverbial slush pile (to be read when one of the overworked staff has a moment).

Of course there is also the thrill of finding out you’ve been shortlisted for a competition.  For me this meant being able to justify the many un-paid hours I put into my writing, often stolen from family- time, and confirmation that I should start taking my writing more seriously.  

Winning of course is fantastic (and helps to justify the entry-fees) but being short-listed is no less an achievement.  Choosing a winning story from a short-list is down to the personal taste of the judge (we often chose ‘voices’ similar to our own) whereas to be part of a short-list, is a statement of quality.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Writing for different genres- how do you do it?

If you're a writer - or, for that matter, a reader - you'll have noticed that different genres have noticeably different conventions with regard to such things as writing styles, degree of pace, suspension and so on. Even use of language can differ, for instance you wouldn't expect Ian Rankin or Michael Connolly to write in the same way as Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel. Mind you, people like PD James and John le Carre do manage to write literary works while at the same time sitting in the crime and/or spy sections of bookshops and libraries, but they're both a bit special.

So I thought I'd ask a writer who regularly swaps between crime novels and thrillers. Do they use the same conventions? See what the experienced writer, Adrian Magson, has to say about it.

WRITING CRIME NOVELS OR THRILLERS - what's the difference?

by Adrian Magson.

As far as headings go, probably not much. They should both thrill, but to differing degrees.

Readers like to know what they’re getting. As do agents and publishers. Call a book a crime or mystery and they know exactly where to place it, mentally and physically. Romance, sci-fi, fantasy… all those are obvious. Labels help them target books to the appropriate audience (although oddly enough, in one chain bookstore, many thrillers are found in General Fiction).

But as a writer, I have to approach them with a plan in mind. And for me that plan involves pace.

Take my Inspector Lucas Rocco (crime series). Set in rural Picardie, France, in the 1960s. It’s been called a police procedural, but I have to admit it’s light on the procedure. And that’s deliberate. The French police structure is more complex than ours, but going too deep into that would have taken up too much of the story. And Lucas Rocco is not really a rules and regulations animal; as a former gang-buster from Paris, he’ll abide by them where he has to, but solving crimes is what he’s good at and lies at the heart of each story.

Rocco, often accompanied by Claude Lamotte, the local garde champetre (rural cop), or Desmoulins, a fellow detective, is not always chasing crims in dark corners. He’s more likely to be out looking for clues, or straying off-territory to hunt down contacts and sources of information (often in Paris, his former base), or mixing with unsavoury types trying to unpick the relationship between suspects or others, all the time trying to stay below the radar of the all-embracing Ministry of the Interior.

The Ministry is vast and controls all aspects of police life. To Rocco, the men in grey suits merely get in the way, especially when so many of his cases seem to involve an arm of the government. Then there’s his immediate boss, Commissaire Massin, with whom he has history both of them would like to forget. These twin aspects of Rocco’s professional life – and his problems adjusting to life in a small village, and the quirky locals - allow me to inject conflict alongside the troubles and dangers he faces each day, whether that’s from violent criminals, would-be presidential assassins or bombs left by former Resistance members.

Rural it might be in Picardie; quiet it isn’t.

The pace here lies in the unravelling of the story as he chases down the villains, and this invariably picks up and becomes more tangible as we get into the investigation.

And then there's my protagonist Harry Tate (spy thriller series).
This has pace in its DNA. I know from the start of each book that I have to keep the story moving. This means more action, more threat – and a faster movement of characters and events.

As a former soldier and MI5 officer, who was nearly terminated by a rogue boss (‘Red Station’), Harry works as a contractor for the intelligence services and others. He’s ‘carded’ (licenced to carry a weapon), and his world is one of spies, traitors, rogue military types and foreign intelligence hit teams. He has a colleague, Rik Ferris, who provides the technical aspect of surveillance, digging out secrets and occasionally hacking into areas he shouldn’t.

Harry isn’t a super-agent type, but more a solid, effective counter-intelligence worker who gets things done. He’s ready to travel anywhere, and frequently does, so his field is international (which is also fun to research and write).

I was asked last year by the Harry Tate publishers to write another series character, and have just turned in ‘The Watchman’ (due out in February), which is still in the contemporary thriller world, but darker in tone. It was something I wanted to try, to see if I could deliver. (The publishers and my agent – and my wife, Ann, who is my beta reader – love it, so the signs so far are good). Portman, the main character, is a sort of unseen bodyguard for spies, and therefore has to be ruthless in his outlook to protect his charges. The setting is on the Somali/Kenyan border and involves terrorists and pirates.

I enjoy switching between the two genres types, and consciously wear a different mental hat for each one. Once that hat is on, I’m in the zone and ready to go.

The main thing is, I enjoy what I do, whatever the genre, and hope that comes out in the writing.


Adrian Magson -



Inspector Lucas Rocco series published by Allison & Busby

Harry Tate series published by Severn House 

Bio: Adrian Magson is the author of 15 crime/thriller novels and many short stories and articles. His latest novels are ‘Execution’ (Severn House – May 2013), 5th in the Harry Tate spy series, and ‘Death at the Clos du Lac’ (Allison &Busby), 4th in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series. A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for Writing Magazine, and is the author of ‘Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press).

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Thinking of self publishing?

So you've decided to go it alone. The next question is, print book or e-book? Well, Philippa has talked about her experiences of using print-on-demand services. And this may well be the way you want to go (there's no reason why you can't do both). But I chose to take the route of self-publishing on line.

The first thing you will need is a cover. It's important that this cover is one that will still look good reduced to a thumbprint, one that will stand out and mark your novel as professional. And I'm afraid that, for that, you will have to pay. The company I used was called 2h Design Consultancy and the guy I dealt with was Ned Hoste. It was pricey, but the service was excellent. It didn't take more than a few days before six options were winging their way to me. The one I chose wasn't exactly one of the ones he sent, but had elements from several incorporated into the final result. I recommend them.

Now I'm no technophobe, and I guess I thought I would find the next part easy. I'd spent quite a bit of time on-line, investigating sites which gave you information on how to do it yourself, sites which offered to do it for you (for a fee) and sites which promoted themselves as e-publishers, and had gathered a considerable amount of information. Well it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. For a start I was a bit bewildered by the information on the type of formatting that was required. It seemed that different e-book sellers required different formats, and so just reading the instructions put out by Amazon for Kindle would only go so far. And I didn't want to limit my market to just one seller. So in the end I chose the company that seemed to have the strongest reputation, which was Bookbaby.

Were they helpful? Well, yes and no. They claim that you can just send them a Word document and they will do the rest. So I sent them a Word document, along with the fee (which isn't extortionate). Not so fast. Apparently, I discovered, although this was indeed a Word doc., it had the wrong formatting. Well, I had thought (and to be honest, I still do think) that putting in the correct formatting was what I was paying them to do. Now I was lost. It wasn't that I couldn't understand what was needed. It was that I couldn't work out how to take out all the formatting I'd put in.

So, and I totally advise this to anyone who is struggling with technology, I went to a geek forum, and I asked the question. As it happened I'd been chatting on this forum for a while, ever since I developed my own website, and so I wasn't just a newbie asking for favours. That can get right up people's noses. And there I found a Good Samaritan who DID IT FOR ME! She even reformatted the book correctly and said it only took her about twenty minutes.(Of course I now needed to learn to do it myself, and when I've mastered it I'll post the details).

Once it was in the correct format, the new, smart cover attached, I re-sent it to Bookbaby and soon it was on all the e-book retailers' lists.

Wow! Now everybody's flocking to buy it, yes? Well, er, no, actually. Because here's the rub. Whether you choose to self-publish through print on demand, or through e-sellers, the marketing and publicity is all down to you. It can feel really heady initially, when friends and acquaintances are reading it, they're recommending it to their friends, you're getting some fab reviews on Amazon. Philippa even got her book taken up by a reading group. But once that's over, you need to be thinking of how to get your book out there, and noticed (and bought and read, obviously). So how?

Well, the standard response is: Social Media. Of which there are many forms. I'll have a look at them, and what's worked for me, in the next post, but let me tell you this much: it's a long, slow haul.

Paula K. Randall

Monday, 5 August 2013

Marketing and Publicity by Philippa

You will not sell or share your book without somehow telling people it exists. Word on the block says you must have an e-profile but if you’ve never been out there on the net it can be hard. You have to realise that with an e-profile you cannot totally control who reads your details and it’ll be open to all. I joined Linkedin which felt quite safe, and was already on Facebook as an individual, but had always used it with caution.

I continued with the personal approach and e-mailed everyone on my private e-mail contact list asking them to send details of the book on to their friends too. Everyone I met or bumped into had to listen to my pitch about the book, and these contacts as well as a fabulous book launch evening at Wivenhoe Bookshop have resulted in over 300 sales. Relative strangers now come up to me in the street to say how much they’ve enjoyed the story, so it had obviously moved beyond simply family and close friends reading it, which is exciting.

I was able to put the paperback on Amazon but I don’t believe that has resulted in any sales so far, so the next decision is whether to e-publish. The big question now is whether my IT skills are up to it and I suspect the answer is ‘no’ so I’ve asked for help from Wivenbooks and that is going to be the next stage of the journey. We want to try to get it on to multiple e-readers in order to support independent bookshops which often stock e-readers other than Kindle. Once ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’ is digitally available I aim to give it it’s very own Facebook page.

I’m also hoping this blog from Wivenhoe Writers, a small group of local writers who meet up once a month to share their work and discuss writing, will continue to raise the profile of my writing. It feels safer than trying a blog of my own and I hope will be stimulating in it’s own right – we’ll see. So it’s blogging and short story writing now till the autumn, then head down for the second novel as the nights draw in.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Guest Spot: What an editor can offer, by E.V. Seymour

Congratulations! You’ve written your novel. In the process you’ve expended blood, sweat and tears and enough energy to power the Grid for a month. Your other half has read it and so have your friends. They all declare it a brilliant creation, so much so that you think you should simply send it out to a few chosen agents, sit back and wait for the phone to ring. What could possibly go wrong? Answer: quite a lot.

The problem is one of objectivity. Naturally, those who care about you and want you to succeed are going to pull their punches. (They’ve seen you sweat for the past year or so, remember.) For example, are they honestly going to point out that your main character is a weed; your story has the pace of a sick snail; your police procedure/research is, ahem, ‘unresearched,’ or your climactic scene lacks conflict and tension? Of course not! The more discerning of your mates may say something like: ‘I really loved that scene in the nightclub/in the empty house/in the burning building.’ They might even be bold enough to say: ‘I’m not sure I got why X did Y.’ Even if they pinpoint a problem, they are unlikely to be able to help you fix it. This is where people like me come in.

It’s extremely rare for a novel to tick all the boxes without a little intervention. The mundane truth is that editors encounter the same flaws time and time again. Simply put, my job involves identifying weak areas, flagging these up and offering suggestions for improvement. Weak areas can range from poor spelling and grammar, and repetition of the same word in a paragraph – I’ve twice suggested literacy courses – poor plot structure where the narrative is skimmed and scenes aren’t fully dramatised – a series of company meetings doesn’t constitute a story – to main protagonists who couldn’t cross the road without help, let alone sort out a bad guy. My pet hate is split point of view. I once encountered four different viewpoints in a single paragraph. It was the literary equivalent of watching a doubles match of ping-pong.

My skills don’t simply lie in picking up on these little idiosyncrasies. Somehow, I have to get the message across in the kindest manner possible. I find humour helps and I really endeavour to tailor the report to the individual. Psychology plays an important role. I want to inspire not crush and it’s sometimes hard to tell a writer, who has rightly set such store by his or her work, that certain elements are not working as well as they might. Occasionally, I’ll receive a piece of work and quickly realise that crime fiction isn’t really the genre that best showcases a writer’s talent. Suggesting to a wannabe crime author that their strengths lie in writing historical fiction can be a delicate business. I’ve noticed recently that constructive criticism is especially difficult to get across to clients who have had sparkling careers in other fields. Once or twice, I’ve been on the business end of a writer’s wrath, which is unpleasant for me, but a disaster for him or her. Believe it or not, and in common with a good agent, editors are batting for the writer. As a published writer myself, I know only too well what it’s like to receive rejection. I understand how damaging it can be to one’s self-esteem, how it eats away, if you let it. With this in mind, how can I not be on your side?

Crime fiction is one of the most competitive genres. With the seismic changes in the publishing industry over the past ten years, it’s harder than ever to break in. Cutting to the chase, it can cost in terms of time, mental stamina, occasionally relationships, and money. And here’s the rub.

In times of recession it may seem madness to spend your hard earned cash on professional advice. The alternative is to risk rejection from a dozen or more agents and have your confidence shattered; or self-publish, receive poor sales and rubbish reviews from armchair critics and, erm… have your confidence shattered! Too often writers seek help after the proverbial horse has careered out onto the road and hit a bus. Why put yourself through the misery when, with a little tweaking, rewriting and polishing, you can produce a piece of work of which you can be justly proud?

One final point: there are a lot of rookie outfits offering ‘professional expertise’. It pays to check these out and discover exactly what you are going to get for your money. Find out whether an editorial consultancy has a close relationship with agents. Will that editorial consultancy scout and recommend? In the past two years, I’ve seen three of my ‘babies’ obtain representation. As someone who once used the services of an editorial consultancy a decade ago, I can say, hand on heart, that it was the best decision I ever made. Soon afterwards, I obtained an agent.

E.V. Seymour is the author of five published novels. Under a closely guarded pseudonym, her sixth novel is published in August 2013 with Cutting Edge Press.
Find her novels at:
E.V. Seymour

E.V. Seymour

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Middle bit by Philippa

Writing the book was fun and the book launch exciting, but the middle bit was hard and knowing what to do with the 67,000 or so words I’d written was tricky. I knew I wanted family and friends to read them at the very least and had a sense I wanted to see and feel a physical book. I scoured the Writer’s Handbook 2011 for ideas on publishers and agents not really knowing what I needed, when along came the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. My novel seemed to fit their criteria so I bravely sent off the first 5,000 words, full synopsis, 100 word mini biography and entry form. Even doing that felt an achievement but needless to say I didn’t win. The exercise was useful and made me polish up format and presentation and gave me a deadline.
     After just a pang of disappointment when results were announced I sent off similar packs to half a dozen publishers and agents with little or no response. I decided I had to use the ‘who you know’ system and sent off a pack to a publisher who used a friend’s printing company for all their work. They were kind in their reply but it wasn’t their genre of inspirational, self help and health writing. I did try to say my story was inspirational and had a fair bit of medical stuff in it but they didn’t buy that. I’d already realised I had to make an individualised pitch to each publisher or agent to have any hope at all.
     One particular agent gave me a reply that was so negative I couldn’t even talk about it for weeks. He thought the story had been a good exercise but was full of beginner’s mistakes and needed to be consigned to a drawer. Eventually I took it out of that drawer and decided to fight back, replying to each criticism and defending my characters – by this stage I loved and knew them well. Sometime later I received a letter saying he’d had the manuscript read by an agent’s reader and a copy of their report was included. It pointed out mistakes and errors which I accepted – too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ (that old chestnut), too easy resolution of conflict, not enough conflict in the second half etc. but the negative comments were nicely balanced by a few positive ones, just as a good teacher would do, and I found a little hope returned to my soul.
     That letter made me brave enough to approach Wivenbooks, the publishing arm of Wivenhoe Bookshop which publishes one or two choice authors, but also supports a print-on-demand facility for a few others willing to pay. Things really got moving and Catherine Dodds designed my lovely front cover and Ginny Waters got me an ISBN number and registered the details with Nielsens data for books. Wivenbooks suggested  names of possible editors and Jane Olorenshaw did a copy-edit for a further fee. Copy-editing was surprisingly good fun with e-mails bouncing back and forth – at my request the main aim was SPAG and continuity rather than content and that kept the fee down. Once we were happy Catherine sent the document off to Lightening Source and I was delighted with the proof print of the book. We pressed the button and ordered 100 copies. I have now done 4 print runs (the 5 day delivery time is excellent) and I’m exploring e-publishing.
     Novel number 2 is in it’s infancy and having learned a lot from novel number 1 I feel just a little better prepared.
Consider options – competitions, publisher, agent, self publishing, e-publishing.
Assess costs and keep an account.
Talk to everyone and anyone with contacts or experience.
Be patient.
Get an editor – copy-edit at the very least.
Be prepared for knock backs but stay positive.