A Little Goes a Long Way

Over the weekend I got some cheering news. First, a reader posted a 5 Star Review ofEugenica ‘Eugenica’, which is always uplifting. As I wrote recently, this is my most personal book and it means an awful lot to me. I have struggled to find a readership for it, however. Despite the lack of uptake everyone who has read the novel has had only positive things to say about it. This reader was no exception.

I do a lot of research when writing. Eugenica was no different. As it involved the subject of eugenics there was a lot of reading to be done to make sure that I got the facts right. I found the subject matter quite disturbing even in its more positive vein, when it descended into the dysgenics promoted by the Nazis (they were not exclusive in this either) then it became harrowing. I wanted to capture something of that in my book, I think that I succeeded as the reviewer refers to my ‘chilling research’. This kind of observation makes all the work worthwhile.

The full review can be read here: Review Link

My War WolfFrom a very different source came some more kind words, a reader contacted from my website. They were prompted after buying a copy of ‘The War Wolf’, the first part of my Sorrow Song Trilogy that recounts the events of 1066. Again, my depth of research was praised. In particular, this reader really liked the back-story that explains why the Norman invasion of England even happened. I have to admit that when I was researching the story I found many accounts not only treated the Norman Conquest as inevitable but also went into very little detail as to why Guillaume of Normandy even undertook this dangerous military expedition. The same applies to King Harald Hardrada of Norway, who was the first to invade, choosing the north of the country instead of the south. Indeed, Hardrada’s incursion is often just used to justify King Harold and his Saxons failure at Hastings, a long-held theory that is not supported by the facts.

As a reader I enjoy books that have some depth to them. Although I enjoy dipping intoMesozoic the adventure genre I get bored of books that are either too lightweight or poorly researched. I think that is why I am willing to do the work for my own stories. Even ‘Mesozoic’, very much an adventure book itself, has some grounding in science. I worked hard to present a plausible account of possible time-travel. I could have merely written that the characters got into a time-machine and went back to the time of the dinosaurs. It would have been very easy to do. It would also have lacked a degree of authenticity too. The accounts of the animals, that is mostly the dinosaurs, are based on scientific facts that were accurate at the time of the writing of the book. I like to think that that gives Mesozoic a degree of gravitas.

I think that everyone knows that feedback is valuable. As a writer the posting of a review or receiving an email from an appreciative reader is the only real evaluation of your work that you get. Even though Amazon and other vendors make it relatively easy to post a review very few people, in my experience, have gone to the bother of doing so. I wish that this was not the case. It is not as if a full book report is required, as you can see from the review linked above. It is very succinct and to the point. I appreciate it just as it is.

If you have read any of my books and intended to leave a review but never got around to doing so can I just say that it is never too late. Just a few kinds word really do go a long way.

https://www.petercwhitaker.co.uk/

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Music, Writing, and What to Listen To

Internet Radio

How I invented time-travel for ‘Mesozoic’; listening to music!

I love music. I doubt that making such a declaration would surprise anyone. All the people I know love music too. I might not like their particular taste, but that is not important. Music is and has been for as long as I can remember, a part of my life. I was no good at playing it myself. I tried the inevitable recorder at school. I really did try but I was never any good. I have a feel for music, I know that I do, but I also have a muscle condition that inhibits normal reflexive action. My muscles tend to stiffen and take a long time to relax if I move too quickly or for too long. I cannot achieve the fluidity of movement that seems to me to be an integral part of being a good musician. I still enjoy music though.

The only time when I have a problem with music is when I am writing. I have found that I cannot concentrate if there is music playing that includes singing. I find it very distracting. When I hear songs that I know well I find them unconsciously seductive and I start singing (badly) along with them. As soon as I realise what I am doing, singing (badly) and not intuitively writing, I get angry with myself. Frustration and stress set in and that is a big blocker on creativity.

Often, I choose not to have any music on at all. I do not find the silence disturbing at all. My wife does. She likes to have music on all of the time, even in rooms that she’s not using. I can happily sit in a room in total silence, well, apart from the clicking of the keys as I hit them. There are times, however, when I do want something in the background. In these instances, instrumentals are the obvious choice, but I have to be careful. If I choose classical music, then I do not want to listen to something powerful or emotive; it has the same affect on me as a song. I have found ambient music to be an excellent choice. The simpler the better. I like the way it just melts into the background and demands nothing of my attention. It is there, like a blanket, softening other sounds.

When I am writing I am also very much in my own imagination. I am on a tour of the story as I have written it inside my head. My task is to get it out of my memory and onto a digital page. I need to concentrate to do this. I also need to lose myself within the fabric of the story. You could call it daydreaming I suppose; the only difference is my fingertips are in contact with the keyboard and usually tapping away incessantly. Unlike normal daydreaming there is, eventually, an end product to what I am doing; a book. Ambient music has certainly helped me produced a couple of those.

Lately, I have been exploring the world of internet radio. Initially, I went in search of ambient music. I found quite a few stations but often the tone seemed to change abruptly. Instead of soft, soothing tones it often got jazzed up a bit and became a distraction. I tried several ‘chill out’ stations and found a similar situation. A lot of the music would be just what I was looking for but never consistently so. I got lucky, however. I found a station called ‘Whisperings’ that plays only solo piano pieces. I gave it a try and was not disappointed. Occasionally, I hear a piece I know but it has never proven distracting. Obviously, I could always put together a playlist and listen to it on my iPod or through my laptop. Sometimes I have done this, but the fact is that I do not own enough of this quiet kind of music to see me through several hours of writing. I am not sure that I want to own that much quiet music either. The existence of alternative sources of music also means that I do not have to, for which I am grateful.

One day my dream will come true; I will have a study. It will include a music centre on which I can play all the music I want. At the moment, I just look for a comfortable place to sit and write. Some places are not as quiet as others. In some locations the need for background music is greater than others. Also, I have found that some writing situations have a greater need for either music or silence than others. This is certainly true when I am trying to reconcile tortuous plot twists or reduce complex concepts. These situations are rare to be honest. Mostly, I do write with the natural fluidity that I could never achieve with a musical instrument. I think that the music I listen to when writing plays a big part in that.

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Eugenica Revisited…Again!

Back in February, 2018, I posted a reprise of my third novel, ‘Eugenica’. I had just finished writing ‘Mesozoic’, a science fiction book that included one of my long-time passions, dinosaurs, and as usual I wanted a change of literary scene. I went back to Eugenica because of all my works it is the one that resonates with me most persistently. Without doubt this is because it is my most personal written work to date. There is something else, it received one of the best endorsements that I could ever imagine. A reader told me that, in their opinion, everyone should read Eugenica because it would change their view of disabled people. The person in question was the parent of a teenager who had Cerebral palsy so they had some relevant experience to inform their opinion. To date, every reader who has expressed a point of view on this book has been positive. I just wish that more people had read it.

I am not sure why Eugenica has been so difficult to sell to people. Inevitably, my first consideration is the fact that it features disabled people as the central characters. The disabled are not warmly received generally. In culture they are often the representation of evil, horror, or the unnatural. If not, they are the objects of pity, which in my opinion is even worse. I call it the Richard III-Tiny Tim syndrome. Eugenica was my conscious effort to offer something different. I suppose the question is, how do you break through people’s natural aversion to the disabled? Writing the story is one thing but getting people to read it is another. It is the question to which I do not yet seem to have found an answer.

In the past I used marketing to try and enhance the book’s readership. It did not really work. Even though I emphasised the books themes of adventure, dystopia, and the triumph of the human spirit the take up was not as great as I had hoped. Even when I gave the book away for free, requesting only an honest review, the experiment largely failed. Although plenty of people took up the offer to date only two have posted a review. It seems people really do want everything for absolutely nothing! The thing is, I really believe in the worth of this book. I do believe that it is the most powerful story that I have written to date. The Sorrow Song Trilogy is a rewarding account of the events of 1066. Mesozoic is a fun time-travel adventure. Eugenica is, to me, more important than any of them. It has a real statement to make about the human condition, one that is as relevant today as it would have been back in the 1930’s where the story is set. Everything that I see today is as callous, uncaring, vindictive, and prejudiced as it would have been had eugenics really become the cornerstone of a government’s social betterment policy. If you do not believe me then why not give the book a read?

That is my challenge.

Eugenica is currently available for a measly $0.99. That’s right, a book over 160,000 words long that will challenge and entertain you is available for your eReader for less than $1 or even £1. It is approximately one-third of the price of a cup of coffee in a trendy outlet! I won’t get rich doing this but then that is not the objective; getting more people to read the book is. So, why not accept my challenge? Follow the link below and have a look. If you like what you see buy Eugenica with the coupon, enter the code ‘FA67F’ at the checkout. I promise you, by the time you finish reading Eugenica you will have spent a small fortune on coffee, but your soul will be all the richer for the experience.

Eugenica at Smashwords.com

Eugenica

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When the story just seems to go on and on

Republic

The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom just does not want to be finished! I thought that I was closing in on the job, but then out comes another idea! No warning. No subtle introduction. All I get is ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we examine the friction between an almost absolute monarchy and a growing desire for republicanism in a fantasy setting?’ Yeah right! More like a lot of extra work for me you mean!

Writing a book can be a lot like painting a picture, the difficult part is knowing when it is finished!

To be honest, I think that it is easier with a book. With painting of drawing I have always found that feeling of ‘just a little bit more here’ won’t go away. When it comes to writing I am usually frustrated more by not tying all the threads together in exactly the way I want them. I know, that probably does not make a lot of sense, but then you have to think of a novel as kind of a living thing. Well, I seem to.

It must be my technique that does this. I write my books in my imagination by enlarge. I am always thinking about them in one way or another. I ponder characters and how they might develop, plot twists, themes that I want to explore, points I want to make, just about everything that should go into the writing of a book actually. The other thing is that it does not seem to end with writing ‘The End’. My books still haunt my memory like old friends. They never seem to leave me even when I am working on something new.

To me, The Queen of the Mountain is a good adventure story in a fantasy setting. That is what is at the heart of the book. A good old adventure where good battles evil. But then there is more to the story, well, there had to be seeing as I had dumped all the medieval paraphernalia, not to mention the usual suspects; elves, orcs, dragons, and wizards. One of the themes of the book is a society in transition from a period of repression and exclusion to one that is more open. It seems inevitable that an institution like a monarchy would come under pressure from people who feel that they have little to say in matters but suffer the outcomes disproportionately all the same. So, we have to have republicanism then!

Like any creative process the decision to add something new at this late stage causes problems. I need a character who can make a case for the new theme. That character needs a backstory and a logical introduction to events. I have an idea on that score. It is something that should slowly appear in the story and make a full entrance as a previous drama begins to resolve itself. Keep the tension going see! More work, but I feel that this book deserves it. I like the world that I have invented. I think that it possesses a degree of logic and depth that make it attractive. Adding a new layer will not hurt it. Now, to get on with the typing.

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No Orcs!

orcs

Seriously! No orcs in a fantasy story?

I have been working very hard lately on completing my fantasy novel. I am almost there, but not quite. I find this the most frustrating part of the process, if I am honest. I can see the end but just cannot reach it yet.

The actual writing part is close to being finished. There are some themes that I am considering introducing, republicanism in a time of almost absolute monarchy for example. The idea interests me, but I must ask is it worthwhile regarding the story that I am telling? I think that it is. When I began writing this book I did not think too much about how shallow an absolute monarchy was in terms of the civilisation that I was creating. That is okay. I write my ideas down in the first draft and then develop them in the writing of the story. That is exactly what I am doing here. Consequently, that means that the finish line recedes a little.

To make a fantasy world believable it must have its roots in our reality. I have stuck by that premise throughout this project. No matter how fantastic the world that I create is it has to have ties that bind it to our collective experience as a people. If I were pursuing an avantgarde or surreal literary experience then that would probably not be a consideration, but that is not what ‘Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ is about. It is not an intellectual indulgence. I do hope that it will prove to be an enjoyable read with likeable characters and a background world into which readers can immerse themselves.

All of this takes time, which we all know to be the most precious commodity that we possess. Writing a book takes an awful long time. Well, my books seem to anyway. Of course, it did not help that I had to undergo surgery as well. I kind of feel like my next novel should be set in the here and now and so require a lot less work from me. This is normal. I remember feeling that way when working on finishing ‘For Rapture of Ravens’ and deciding that I had had enough of historical research. I wrote ‘Eugenica’ as a means of getting out of the whole historical thing. Well, that is what I told myself. I mean, ‘Eugenica’ was an alternate history novel so there was still some pertinent research to be done. The fact is, if you want to write a good novel then you cannot escape the need to do research.

You may be wondering where this fits in with writing a fantasy novel? The fact is that the research is a necessity even in a world that you create yourself. It is one of the ties that bind. ‘Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ is not set in some medieval land populated with the inevitable elves, orcs, dragons, and wizards. There is a princess and a kind of sorceress. There is also a race of people who possess an arcane knowledge that allows them to perform a kind of magic. Traitors, spies, adventurers are also present to help move the story on. These characters inhabit different social strata, have different occupations, and some even come from much further afield than the main location where the book is based. Each has to be logical in order to believable and that often means having a backstory that can feed into their development as characters.

Although the book feels that it is almost completed I know that this is an illusion. Once I think that I have written the last word I will then go back to the beginning and start reading it through. At the same time, I will use my style-sheet to ensure consistency throughout the text. It can be very annoying, for example, to give a character the name ‘Gray’ and then find that two thirds into the book I started calling them ‘Grey’ instead. That is what the style-sheet does, reminds you of what you have already written in a novel over 100,000 words long.

Despite the claim to frustration there is also an immense amount of satisfaction to be had from reaching this stage of the project. All the best of my ideas are coming together. I had to ditch a few along the way, of course. Casualties are inevitable in this business. I hope that I have done this by being critical in a positive sense. I think that will become evident when I start the read through. That is the where I start the serious editing, not just the misspelled words or dodgy grammar. On the read through I look for unnecessary repetition, of which I already know that there is too much. I must remember that most facts only have to be stated once, not once every chapter! I also examine the themes and threads to make sure that they contribute something and come to logical conclusions where necessary. Also, that some of the ideas I had are not too fantastical.

I am happy to say that the idea of ‘Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’ continues to excite me. I need this kind of motivation to see across the line. I hope that people who read the finished book will be able to discern it the text also.

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A New Guy on the Block

Recuperation seems to be as time intensive as undergoing medical procedures. I get the feeling that once the frame was removed from my leg there many things that I just wanted to get back on with. Normality was the motivation. I wanted to get back to normal and do normal things. Like washing the pots for example! Boring, I know, but it is only when you are denied the ability to do such things that you discover how important a little bit of boring normality is.

In my quest to be normal my writing has been put on the back burner – again! I have done some, just not as much as I would like. The fantasy novel is coming on well, but still not finished. I have also been working on a new character. He’s a kind of an anti-hero. Actually, he would definitely not consider himself a hero at all. in fact, the idea would not even cross his mind. I don’t know where this guy came from. He’s not the kind of character that I have felt drawn to writing about before. Like many others he seemed to just form in my imagination, but, unlike so many others, he did not simply fade away. He has stuck around and given me some interesting (to me) ideas to work with.

To get this guy into a story I am going to have to look at writing a thriller. I do not find this daunting, probably because I do not consider myself a genre writer. I like the thriller genre as well. I have read quite a few books and enjoyed quite a few movies that fit the bill. I also have an idea for a fictional world that is heavily rooted in this one but where various characters can interact and play out individual stories against the same background. It is a kind of ‘Sin City’ sort of thing, but perhaps not as over the top. I think that my new character, who is called Dave, would fit right in there.

The thing about Dave is that although he’s not exactly the hero type he’s not a villain either. At least not in the traditional sense. He is someone who is out to discover his true nature and is not afraid if that turns out to lean one way or another in someone else’s moral judgement. He has notions that he wants to pursue, like developing a code to live by, and testing himself in dangerous and violent situations. To be honest he’s still pretty vague as yet but he won’t go away. Dave is proving very persistent. Although I had a couple of other stories that I wanted to develop I think Dave is going to bully his way to the front.

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The Mechanics of Writing

Gears

I have always enjoyed writing stories. When I was younger I did it to entertain myself. Later, as I became more confident, I shared my work with close friends. I have always had a good imagination but I must admit that many of my ideas then were heavily influenced by the books I read as a child, as well as the television programmes and movies that I liked to watch. The fact is that although I loved writing I did not really know how to write a story.

I think that this is true for most people. There may well be one or two natural story tellers out there but even so they have to grapple with the mechanics of writing a book. I suppose that some might simply dictate their ideas and leave it to typists and editors to put the thing into some sort of semblance, but that does not seem to be the essence of writing to me. It is like an artist sketching a painting, doing the bare minimum, and then handing it over to someone else to finish. Yes, it has got their name on it but it has not captured any of their soul.

Writing a novel is a process as much as any other human undertaking. Having the idea to begin with can often prove frustrating but in that respect it is only the first and most certainly not the last problem to be encountered. I have had lots of ideas for books, but most of them withered and died. Although an idea might seem good at the first inception the fact is, as a novel writer, you have to discover if it has the necessary longevity. You have to take that original idea and subject it to testing. How individual authors do this is probably as different as the books that they write. For myself, I like to write a fairly loose document that aims solely to capture the idea in as complete a fashion as possible. I do not worry about things like spelling, grammar, plot, character development, all essential to a good book; that comes later. Getting the idea down on paper is what counts. Then I spend time writing the book in my head. Even if it survives these two crucibles it does not mean that the book will see the light of day. Fitting the idea into the actual mechanics of writing is what decides that.

An average novel is some 70,000 words long. I use that as my target. I am not particularly concerned about word length other than as a guide. The fact is, however, that 70,000 words is quite a distance in literary terms. If an idea can be spun into a story that reaches or even surpasses 70,000 words then you definitely have the makings of a book. There are other considerations, however. Does the story develop? This is a very good question and one that many writers do not seem to stop to consider. It might seem obvious but I have read more than one book where the entire story was so linear that you could see the end coming before you even reached the middle. Such a tale is still a story, just not a very good one.

Development of the idea is all important in good fiction writing. That statement includes everything related to the story. Not only must the plot develop but so should the central characters. If the hero is the same person at the end of the book as they were at the beginning then they really have not passed through any interesting experiences. Experience is what changes us and we accrue it through living a life. The more interesting the life the more subject to change we are through learning life’s lessons. A character in a book who does not learn is not interesting, certainly not to me. This is known as the hero’s journey and it is a staple of fiction writing. I am often surprised how many writers do not seem to be aware of this narrative template.

To develop both the story and the characters a writer must create a plot, a series of causal events that give the story its momentum so as to move it from beginning to end. In the early days of writing plots were as simplistic as that, they started at the beginning of the story and finished at the end. They could still take some interesting turns along the way, and throw in a few surprises too, but they were essentially simple. Today, we have writers who can craft plots that seem more intricate than the actual story that they give rise to. In fact, if you watch a television series like Daredevil, you can see the use of what is called the overarching plot that ties together a number of shorter sub-plots that provide the actual story of each episode. The role of the overarching plot is to bring the main story to a logical conclusion while at the same time allowing for numerous interesting developments to occur without the risk of the story disappearing at a tangent on each occasion. A television series often employs a team of writers to achieve this level of story telling to a high standard, novel writers usually do not.

When I have replied to someone by telling them that I am an author I have often heard the response: ‘Oh, I’m going to write a book one day too!’ I never question the person’s intent, I do often wonder if they know what is involved, however. I like cars. I would like to build a car of my own design, money and time permitting. I do not know how to build a car, however. I do know that I could learn and, if I were to enjoy a big win on the lottery, I might very well just do that very thing. I suspect that most people who state that they are going to write a book one day stop to think in the same way. That is the difference between writing a book, which anyone can do, and writing a book that people want to read. If you do not understand the mechanics of the process then you are in for a rough ride. A bit like the one offered by my car if I build it before I learn the necessary skills first.

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