Monthly Archives: June 2012

100K – not cash, sadly

100,000 words! Wow, I never thought I could write that much! Some folk I know spout that number of words in a single day (believe it or not, it’s a man who is the worst offender – sorry if that sounds sexist) but it still feels like a milestone to me.

The 4 chapters or 10,000 words I’ve added to The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile since my last blog came about because I was keen 1) to inject extra zip into the early part of the story, as  Kindle etc. users can download a sample before deciding whether to buy it 2) to introduce the heroine earlier and beef up the romance element.

I’ve now given it one last polish, formatted it for ebook publication and, in the last few minutes, sent it off to my epublisher.

The great adventure begins!


100 Thousand Words

It’s not a skoosh, this novel writing business. A couple of blogs ago, I reckoned The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile might end up at 90,000 words.

For 90,000, read 100,000. That’s because I’ve remembered that Kindle, iTunes and some other devices allow you to download a 10% sample of a novel for free before you decide whether to buy it. In other words, my opening 10% has to be as snappy and gripping as it can be.

That left me two options – to inject extra zip into my first chapters or write new ones. I’ve decided on the second option, so my new chapters will (when finished) involve the hero in an urgent plane and car dash to catch up with the girl with the Julia Roberts smile.

Wish me luck. I need it.

What’s in a name?

My first headmaster used to sign all his letters “E. Campbell”. I assumed he was Eddie till I found out he was Ebenezer, which explained the “E.”!

You can go mad, fretting over the best title for your book. It seems stupid. It never held the world’s great writers back, so why should it bother me? Shakespeare called his plays “Hamlet” or “Othello”, he didn’t waste his time on fancy titles. Yet some modern authors go to the other extreme e.g. Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” or Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”. Do readers really care? Answers in a blog or email, please. Postcards are old hat.

Anyhow, I’ve already tried four different titles for my new enovel. It started out as “Living with Ellen”, then moved on to “Twitchy”. At the time of my last blog, a few days ago, it was “The Girl with the Haunting Smile.” Today, it’s “The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile”. I’ve got a feeling I may stick with the latest version.

The Best Time to Write

How do you fight writer’s block? By going away and coming back later? By sitting there with a towel over your head till inspiration comes?

Writing is like golf. It can be exhilarating one day, infuriating the next. What works for one writer can be a total disaster for another. I’ve always found that the best answer to writer’s block is to sleep on it. Problems that cause my brain to seize up at night often seem like no problems at all in the morning. The trick is to be able to clear your mind before you try to doze off. If you take your writer’s block to bed with you and mull it over under the duvet, you’ll be like a zombie next day and your block will be even more fearsome.

In writing The Girl with the Haunting Smile, I have never set out to scribble a pre-determined number of words per day or to work a set number of hours. It seems to me that you should know when it’s time to stop i.e. when the flow has slowed down or dried up. If you stay hunched over your laptop after that, the odds are that the push for quantity will cause quality to suffer.

I’ve reached the end now (91,000 words later) and the polishing is in full swing. My online publisher is calling for the final version, so I can’t afford too many writer’s blocks at this late stage. Onwards and (I hope) upwards!


A Novel Solution

It’s funny how you drift into novel-writing. For yonks I thought I’d never get round to it. I had success of a sort with other stuff – short stories, radio and TV sketches, stage plays, TV scripts (“The Net” for ITV, “Balamory” for the BBC). I’ve been in journalism for years and written lengthy factual reports, including a 55,000-word one on education.

I never tried my hand at a novel because I reckoned I didn’t have the self-discipline or stamina to see it through. Once I got started, I realised how crazy that was. You get so absorbed in the narrative you’re devising and the characters you’re creating that you don’t want to drag yourself away. Your novel takes over. If you’re like me, you’re not thinking about Amazon sales charts or an interview with Oprah Winfrey, you simply want to write the best novel you can, one that you yourself would enjoy reading.

That’s how I got round to The Girl with the Haunting Smile. I didn’t start out till I’d come up with a strong hero to whom readers could easily relate and who has a huge “want”, an all-consuming focus that drives him right through the novel. I leave you to guess what that focus is. Whatever happens, I won’t regret the time and energy I’ve spent on it. They say we all have a novel in us. If that is so, it’s a shame that most never get it out. It’s an experience worth living.

Hi, book lovers. This is my first blog. I’ve been busy re-shaping my first novel, so I want to share with you the highs and lows and trials and errors of what used to be the loneliest vocation on the planet till Twitter and blogging came along.

Let’s be honest. I set out with the normal dream of seeing my masterpiece on display in Waterstone’s, maybe even Barnes & Noble. In the event, I didn’t send out queries or writing samples to all that many literary agents – less than 20, I reckon – and came within an ace of being taken on by one (but that’s a story for a later blog).

Okay, I don’t exactly win a gold medal for persistence but I had begun to wonder if traditional publishing is now the best route for a new author. It can take years from finishing a novel to seeing it in print. You lose control of editing, design, the whole caboodle. Royalties are much smaller than for ebooks.  90% of published novelists don’t make a living from their writing. To cap it all, publishers can’t afford publicity budgets these days, so you have to do the bulk of the marketing yourself.

An ebook can get out there quickly. As for its content and presentation, you remain the boss and may even have a say in its pricing. It’s down to you to drum up interest and sales but no more so than if you had a contract with a legacy publisher. You may not head the best-seller lists but, as first-timers like E L James and Kerry Wilkinson have shown, it can be done.

It sounds so great that I plan to give ebook publishing a go. Why, then, do I still have a few nagging doubts? Does the Hay Literary Festival’s revolt against the Kindle signal the start of a backlash against the ebook? Is my summary of pros and cons unbalanced? Am I being unfair to traditional publishing? Should I approach another barrowload of agents before settling on the ebook route?

As a blogging newbie, I’m looking for friendly feedback and I’d love to hear what you think.

Jeez, I just realised I’ve told you zilch about my novel. It’s called The Girl with the Haunting Smile and it sits astride two genres – Young Adult and Romance. As for what it’s about and how it came to be, that’s for future blogs. I hope you’ll come back.