Friday, 18 September 2020

When "How to" becomes "How NOT to"

 

All writers know that the more they write, the more they will improve. But sometimes this quest for perfection can prove to be a trap. Let me tell you my experience.

I have around 14 titles in the virtual world, but, like most writers, I am always looking to improve how and what I write. But sometimes, the quest to achieve this can stop you in your tracks. By which, I mean “how to write your book” books/articles/blogs/courses and the like.

After I had written 10 or so books and novellas, I wanted to try and refine my writing process. And so I began what has been a two-year journey to find that perfect method, and believe me there are thousands of self-help books etc. out there. This begs the question as to why there are so many. I am afraid to say that my cynical answer is that the authors of these books will probably earn far more from their self-help books than they do from their own creative writing because these books feed a need in authors to improve, but they also feed our inbuilt insecurity in our own abilities. I know that I could quite easily teach a 10-week writing course for students at my local college. And I also know that if I did so, I would earn so much more from that than I do from my crime books. 

The sad truth is, that after two years of searching for perfection, my writing has dwindled to a struggling nothing. Some days every word is like wading through treacle. It seems the more articles/books I read and try to incorporate into my writing process, the deeper the quicksand becomes. I have now called a halt to reading all these “improvement” books. And do you know why? Because I know how I write my books. I know what my process is, what works best for me.

After much deliberation, I've decided I must reacquaint myself with the way I used to write in order to be able to keep on writing – find again that wonderful joy in my craft I seem to have lost. I do not decry any self-help books and articles. And I think, even for the seasoned writer I now realise I am, they can prove useful for the odd nugget of information. But for me, they made me question my own ability to write and that is what has stopped me writing. 

I must find my old inventiveness, the one that isn’t lashed to a someone else's structure, but a structure that works for me. The problem writers have is that people can tell you but you can write until they are blue in the face. This is the same for many professions but especially the creative ones and, having been a serious singer for most of my life, I can tell you we creatives are all insecure creatures who don’t believe we can do anything well.

I have decided I am neither a plotter nor a pantser but a hybrid. Instinctively, I start with what-if? Then I find my characters and get to know who they are. I put them into my what-if situation. I already know what the end will be. In fact, after writing four or five chapters, my default was to write the last chapter. I will go back to that.

What happens between those five chapters and the end is, as I have often said, like a roadmap. I want to get from London to Edinburgh, but my characters decide which route I will take. I also use index cards to denote the towns – i.e. significant events - I must drive through in order to reach Edinburgh.

My objective is to publish three titles by Christmas 2020. Long Shadows is written and in process of being edited. Loyalty in Conflict has been messed about with so much in the past two years that I am now at the stage where I have ripped it apart and am rewriting huge tranches of it. The third will be the farewell George Pattison Mystery, where she marries her beloved Sir Edward Broome, but of course, there’s just the little matter of a murder along the way.

Next year I intend to start a new crime series set around the northern UK town of Guisborough. It will be crime with a paranormal element. It will also be very interesting to see how fast I write it going back to my method. Watch this space.

 

You can read more about April Taylor here:

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Friday, 4 September 2020

Making the Most of a Windswept Book Launch

It was the August Bank Holiday weekend in the coastal town of Hornsea. After the long Covid-19 lockdown the town was open for business, visitors were streaming in, and Saturday was the date of the Artists’ Fair in the garden behind The Townhouse gift shop. 

It was also the launch for Book 2 in my Yorkshire historical series, The Story of Reighton: New Arrivals. What could possibly go wrong?

As can be seen from the photograph below there is no accounting for the British weather. Sun-tops were out; big jumpers and wet weather gear was in. 

I was sharing an open-sided tent with a photographer and a young couple selling slate and glass art. Before we’d officially started, the photographer and I each had to grasp a tent pole to stop them flying out of their sockets in the strong gusts of wind. This was a recipe for disaster. Guy-ropes were being shaken free of their pins. And then it started raining, the spray covering our wares.

Desperate measures were needed. So, trying not to stand on any flowers in the nearby border, I climbed through the shrubs, guy-ropes in hand, to find something a little more secure to fasten them to.  A nearby tree seemed sturdy enough, but throughout the afternoon I still kept a hand on a shuddering tent pole, just in case, and only dare let go to sign copies of my novel.

Me in red making the most of it

Did the weather keep people away? To my astonishment, no. And much to my surprise I sold 20 copies. The day was well worth the effort and it was great to meet and chat with readers.

Joy Stonehouse

Book 1: Witch-bottles and Windlestraws (A Story of Reighton, Yorkshire 1703 to 1709)
Book 2: New Arrivals in Reighton (A Story of Reighton, Yorkshire 1709 to 1714)

Friday, 28 August 2020

Short stories for radio

 

Covid-19 has seen radio listening increase. Whether they are decorating the dining room, sewing on buttons, or simply washing up, people have rediscovered the joy of radio. Unlike the hypnotic flickering of a television screen, radio makes for interesting company, whatever the task.

Covid-19 has also opened up opportunities for radio writers. BBC Radio Leeds has an on-going call for short stories suitable for a mid-morning audience. Two of my stories, Tickety Boo and The Marriage of True Minds, were recently broadcast on Radio Leeds, and were posted on the catch-up site BBC Sounds.

Both pieces had been published before, but needed tweaking for radio, since hearing words is not the same as reading them. 

Make yourself a cup of tea, click on the links below, and enjoy.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/collection:p089p9hw/p08ng5tf

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/collection:p089p9hw/p08kzk45

Madeleine McDonald

Friday, 21 August 2020

Do you have the Audacity to accept the Audio Challenge?

Screen shot of 'Scent of the Boggel-Mann' reading

It was supposed to be a video, not audio, of me reading an excerpt from one of my stories, but when I ran back the test piece… Well, it could have frightened the horses. Or at least created the sort of social media sensation no one in their right mind wants hounding them to the grave.

I’d been asked to provide a five minute videoed reading as one of the fillers for this year’s virtual FantastiCon. Time was running out. What could I do except regret that I wouldn’t be contributing?

My email had hardly been Sent when the response came in: they’d accept audio. Oh dear… or words to that effect. If I tried to back out a second time I’d never be asked again. There are times when a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do, and this was one of them.

A while ago I’d read up about Audacity, a free. open source, cross-platform audio software package, but I’d looked no further than its rave reviews. I refound its page, took a breath, and hit Download.

What occurred during that single afternoon you can read about HERE. What it opened up was a whole new world of opportunity. When all you need is a little audacity, never be afraid of taking up a challenge.

Just not video.

Linda Acaster

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Hornsea Writers showcased at virtual event

At this time of year, several Hornsea Writers would usually be heading for Fantastic Books Publishing's FantastiCon convention. The pandemic has put paid to a physical gathering, but there will be a virtual event on 15th and 16th August where six new books will be launched.

Although no Hornsea Writer members have books launched at this event, their work will be showcased, so please call in and expect to hear from Linda Acaster, Stuart Aken, Penny Grubb, Shellie Horst and maybe more.

The virtual FantastiCon schedule is HERE.

The event will be streamed on Twtich TV HERE.

For mini reviews on each of FantastiCon 2020's launch books, click HERE.


Friday, 31 July 2020

Republishing with Kindle Direct Publishing


The rights to my second romance novel, The Rescued Heart, reverted to me in 2018. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to revisit the manuscript and republish the book on Kindle.




The text is a little shorter and – hurrah! – certain American expressions have vanished. My first publisher was American, and their editor changed words and phrases here and there, on the grounds that ‘our readers won’t understand that’. Fair enough, she was doing her job and I couldn’t argue.

Her work was followed by that of an American copyeditor who raked over my punctuation and spat it out again. American publishers have a particular horror of what they call a comma splice. Back then, I had to look up the definition of this sin against grammar, and found that my natural writing style was peppered with them. I’m in good company, as many well-known British authors adopt a more informal style, and comma splices have wormed their way back into my rewrite. 

   

The original cover art belonged to my American publisher, so a striking new cover had to be designed, the expanse of blue sky above the city of Basel reflecting the uplifting feel of a second chance romance.

The Rescued Heart is available from Amazon: UK and USA.

Madeleine McDonald is also the author of contemporary romance Enchantment in Morocco and historical romance A Shackled Inheritance, as well as contributions in numerous anthologies around the world.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Diversions from writing: the humble cucumber

There’s never a shortage of diversions for a writer in the process of writing a book, and so avidly will the writer grasp at the diversion, you’d be forgiven for thinking that writing was their most hated pastime ever. It’s not … and yet … anything but getting words on the page is so often the order of the day.
For example, cucumbers:


What’s to be done when the garden produces a dozen large cucumbers? There’s a limit to how many tons of salad one family can eat, but there's always a writer on hand with the answer. Delia to the rescue. Her cucumber soup was not only delicious, it hoovered up the surplus spring onions too. 
Few words written but no cucumbers wasted.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Hitting the Target

Translators are often asked to change a single sentence or paragraph in a finished document. No problem in the digital age. However, when I started work, documents were typed on stencils, and reproduced on a hand-turned duplicator. Corrections were inserted by painting a layer of red correcting fluid onto the stencil, waiting for it to dry, then retyping over the red varnish. I sometimes performed mental gymnastics fitting a new translation into the available space. As well as being accurate, it had to be neither too long, nor too short.


In a way, this was good training for entering flash fiction competitions with a given word count. Nowadays I relish the challenge of producing 53 words exactly, 81 words exactly, 100 including the title, or some other target.

My way of working is to write long, then cut back, checking the word count each time I delete or rephrase. My reward is to save the document with a smirk of triumph. Done it again.

Madeleine McDonald.

Friday, 10 July 2020

If you can't say something nice ... become an editor

You will have heard the old adage: if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all. 

It can create a real conflict for an editor, because what use is a critique if it doesn't point out the shortcomings in a piece? Not that critiques can't go to the nice side - it's good to point out what works as well as what doesn't. However, the real value of a good critique is in pointing out the errors, the rough edges and the bits that don't work, so an editor will concentrate on the not-so-nice side.



It's hard to over-estimate the value of a good constructive critique, which is why Hornsea Writer, Penny Grubb, a judge in the recent Write2Ride creative writing competition, put together a short article pointing out some of the things that entrants might have done better.

'People don't always appreciate constructive criticism,' she says. 'Especially when they are just starting out, but this is the route to becoming a better writer. Doing a generalised feedback piece like this one allowed us to highlight errors without singling anyone out.'

CLICK HERE for the full article on why some people won and others didn't. 

Friday, 3 July 2020

Free LitFests from the comfort of your armchair

Covid-19 may have curtailed travelling and cancelled face-to-face events, but it has opened a plethora of online talks, lectures, and instructive how-to demonstrations, most available on YouTube.

For the writer and the reader the Society of Authors has run a series of Afternoon Tea With… as well as useful talks on marketing for writers. Lockdown Litfest is currently showcasing talks with authors, and York Festival of Ideas took its annual festival online with talks on a wide range of subjects. All of these and many more are free to view. Others, Jericho Writers, being one, are paid events.

It was while trawling the site of York Festival of Ideas, that Linda Acaster came across a talk by writer Edoardo Albert and York archaeologist Paul Gething: Warrior: A Life of War in Anglo-Saxon Britain centreing on a cemetery dig just outside the walls of  Bamburgh Castle. It turned out to be so entertaining that she is currently devouring the book.