Fiction, any kind of fiction is an escape from reality. It is not a question of genre it is a question of need. Human beings need to escape every once and a while into their own imagination. This is hardly earth-shattering news, it has been discussed previously by more eminent commentators than me but it does explain something, however, it gives me a reason as to why I write in the first place.

Coenred01Writing seems to have always been one of the things that I have done. Thanks to my mother I could both read and write before I started school and it was not long afterwards that I wrote my first story; I think it was about a dinosaur. Yes, it probably was because dinosaurs have also been with me since a very early age.

My imagination has always been good and I have always enjoyed stories that have inspired it. Movies, television, comics, and books were all an important resource of new adventures and ideas for me. If I was not being inspired by them then I was acting on that inspiration. When I was at school I used to write, draw, and circulate my own comics among my friends. This would involve me spending hours drafting stories, drawing compartments, and then using pencil and ink to populate them with some fantastic heroes’ puerile adventures. In fact, I would say that this occupied most of my time but I would also say that it was time well spent.

Growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s exposed me to a less than compassionate society with regards to my physical disability. Having the ability to create my own imaginary worlds gave me an avenue of escape when I found the real world to be less than hospitable. I do not know if this helped me cope, the fact that I am still here and still creating suggests that it did something good, I believe. My worlds are immersive. When I write or draw I tend to get lost in the whole creative experience. Whole days have gone by with me paying very little attention to anything else but what I am doing. It often seems that only the most basic body functions have the power to eventually bring me back to the here and now. As I have grown older the need to enter the world of my imagination has never diminished and in some respects it might even have grown. I seem to spend a lot of my time just thinking. Of course, I did spend a lot of my early life just waiting to see doctors at the hospitals. Many of my appointments used to last all day and we did not have mp3 players, kindles, or android tablets to divert ourselves with back then. I think that I learned to live in my head as a coping mechanism to deal with the sheer boredom of sitting in the waiting rooms of the various clinics that I had to attend.

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Feeling powerless might also have something do with it. Children are relatively powerless in comparison to adults in almost every way. Society is something that you have to grow into and even when you have achieved the status of an adult you can still be left with a feeling of a lack of power to change things to your own advantage. Being disabled, even today, only magnifies that problem, but living in your own world can remove that feeling.

If people find some form comfort from day-dreaming, whether it is winning a jackpot in the lottery (one of my favourites) or scoring the winning goal for their favourite team or meeting a celebrity then that is probably good for their mental health. It is fleeting, however, and largely insubstantial. Creating your own world in meticulous detail is not. I know that I am not alone in this belief or experience. Anyone who does anything creative will, I am sure, understand. It is not just about writing, which is generally a very long process, unless you concentrate on short stories I suppose, it occurs in almost every instance of creativity. A painting can become a whole world in and of itself during the creation of it and the same holds true for other human activity in the creative pantheon.

One aspect of writing that I do not identify with is the notion of playing god. I have never thought of myself in this context. I am very aware that every fictional world that I create is mine logically, but it is not a playground. I do not create characters at a whim to put them through some form of torture for my own amusement. That is not how it works, well, for me at least. The story comes first and it is the driving force behind everything else. My worlds evolve both from and around the story. I only create what I feel needs to be created but I must admit that sometimes I can get a little lost in it all. When I was writing the Sorrow Song Trilogy I really threw myself into the research of the period, 1066. I learned probably more than I needed to know to tell the story. I say this because I am aware that there is a lot of detail that I did not use in the final books. It may well be, however, that my awareness of these other details influenced the way I wrote as well. Certainly, I have had some very kind acknowledgements that my books are well researched.

I do not believe that I write simply to satisfy some psychological need to createEUG Falconer 01 imaginary worlds. To be honest, I do not think that I need any reason to indulge in such exercises of imagination. Rather, I believe that I write because I can create imaginary worlds. I write because the whole process gives me tremendous satisfaction. My worlds are not complete, they never could be as they are the product of just one person’s experience of life, totally subjective, but they are complete to me within the boundaries that inspired their creation. They are an escape from a reality that is often hard, cold, and cruel, and a world that is equally beyond our control and before which we often seem insignificant. I write because I can create alternative worlds that are more to my liking and I would like to think that people read my books because they want to live, even if only for a short while, in such a world as I have written about.

 

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What Kind of Novel should it be?

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I have been busy writing a fantasy novel, which has gone very well. Indeed, it has gone much better than I had expected it to. I seem to have a story that has evolved quite naturally and that has given me a lot to write about. It is peopled by a large number of characters and that got me wondering; what kind of novel should this be?

What do I mean by this question? Well, the standard story has a protagonist who is faced with a predicament that they seek to resolve. Often this means going on a journey and meeting other characters, some of whom will appear only once or twice and others who will have a greater input to the development of the story. This is very much the standard approach to writing fiction.

There are some authors who have developed this method to include a number of sub-plots involving characters who may or may not interact at some point with the protagonist but whose own adventures have an important bearing on the outcome of the story. There are also books in which there is not actually a single protagonist, rather the author tells several characters’ stories at the same time and they are woven together to achieve a conclusion.

I believe that there is a great appetite for the standard template of main protagonist, an opinion informed by the huge number of titles that are still popular today. Books like Lord of the Rings employ the second version very successfully. The final version has fewer examples and yet has also proven very successful; Game of Thrones springs to mind.

When I set out to write my fantasy story I actually did not stop to consider how to develop the story, I just let it flow as I wrote. My current manuscript is very much in the Game of Thrones style, I believe. There is no single protagonist to be honest, but a number of people who have fates that are intertwined with each other. I am aware that this style of writing is not to every reader’s taste. I could probably change the template and elevate one character to the main protagonist role and, possibly, write a whole series of adventures based upon them. It might even prove rather popular, and yet I have a nagging doubt.

The thing is, behind this one story there are at least two others that are painted with a broad brush. The most obvious character to take the main protagonist role in the first book is more than likely not to have too much of a role in the following stories. One or more of the other characters could succeed to his place, but that does not mean that are going to continue either.

It is an interesting conundrum. I do not consider myself a genre writer and, therefore, the idea of writing a particular series of books does not appeal to me at all. I value the story more than anything else. On the other hand, attracting more readers to my work is always appealing. Then again, being different has its attractions also.

If I continue with the many protagonists approach then the book will be finished rather quickly, I expect. If I decide to revert to a more conventional style then that will involve a total rewrite, which would then delay finishing the project, obviously. At the moment I remain in two minds.

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What to Do when Finishing a Novel

So, what does a writer do when they have one book nearly finished and another one in second draft needing a lot of work to finish it? Answer: they start another novel of course!

I must be mad. I mean, I have spent a lot of time recently on finishing ‘The Blade’s FellBlades Fell Blow Blow’, the final part of my Sorrow Song Trilogy. It is almost there. Just a few more touches and I will have the finished article ready for submission. As this book was coming to an end I started another one, tentatively titled, ‘The Queen of the Mountain’. Whereas the Sorrow Song Trilogy is historical fiction recounting England’s saga of 1066, ‘The Queen of the Mountain’ is a fantasy novel, I have written previously about jumping from one genre to another. In fact my last blog examined my reasons for doing this. Of course ‘Eugenica’ is an alternate history book, so I have covered three different genres there.

My new book is yet another departure, into the realm of science fiction. I have commented before about how I find most modern science fiction rather unimaginative. I was thinking then that if I ever tackled a science fiction novel then it would be very different from what appears to be mostly ‘space operas’. Well, it is. I must admit that the original idea came from someone else, an internet friend who lives in Switzerland. She gave me the germ of an idea that has, quite simply, taken root. As the book is still in the very early stages of development I do not want to give too much away about it at the moment. What I can say is that it involves a future society that is not based on capitalism, time travel, and dinosaurs. My friend suggested that I include them because they are a passion of mine. I really liked that idea!

It is not enough to have the ideas, however. I am currently in the process of developing the themes of the story, along with the characters, and of course the plot. Some of the themes are going to be quite deep, I expect, touching on population control, natural resource management, a civilisation that does not depend upon money, ecology, alternate agricultural techniques, energy supply, and various other related topics as and when they seem relevant to the story.

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Dinosaurs and science fiction, made for each other!

I already have a good idea about one of the central characters, a woman who combines all the traits that I admire, courage, intelligence, femininity, etc., who will be thrust into a situation that most humans have never experienced before; surviving in a time of dinosaurs! This is not a ‘Jurassic Park’ clone, however (pun intended by the way). My dinosaurs will be real, by which I mean, I consider myself an amateur palaeontologist, therefore I will be writing with as much scientific accuracy as I can muster, and not cutting corners or compromising fact for impact like Michael Crichton did in his book.

So, that’s my immediate writing future mapped out for me then!

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What Kind of Author Should I Be?

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One of the themes that I have picked up on recently while doing some research on promotional work is that an author should identify their audience and tailor their writing accordingly. I have to admit that this idea has never really convinced me. It seems to have been borrowed from the commercial market. I suppose that this okay if you want to be a commercial writer. If you are crafting text for travel magazines then obviously you must be able to write content that meets the readers’ expectations. However, does this apply to fiction?

Well, I can see how it might. If a writer values commercial success over originality then clearly, having an identified audience might make a good beginning. To do this, however, it seems to me that what you have to do is identify norms within any given genre, probably confirmed by books that have already proved themselves successful, and then creating a strict template to use as a basis for your writing. It will not guarantee success, but it might prove popular. The downside to me of this approach is that it necessitates compromise. Instead of setting the benchmark a writer using this method must follow previous benchmarks set by other authors.

War WolfNow, it may well be that because I do not see myself as a genre writer I just do not identify with this approach to book writing at all. If I took the time to identify the audience for each genre I have written in then I am not sure if I would have much time left for the writing. The point is, for me the story is the most important part of what I write. I am not a commercial author, I am a storyteller. I would like to think that my work is original rather than derivative. I remember reading this precept recently, I do not recall who wrote it but the truth of it has stayed with me:

No one was ever original by being the same.

I cannot help but think that by identifying an audience and then writing according to what appears to be popular for that audience that an author is, in essence, only being the same.

Of course, it could be argued that in daring to be original one runs the risk of not having an audience at all. I agree, that is a very real risk, and yet my books have found an audience. It is true that commercial success has not expressed itself in my bank account (yet), but then I set myself a very low target; to be read by one person who I did not know. Actually, when I set that target, some years ago now, it seemed like quite an aspiration. In fact, every time I see that another book has been sold, I still feel like I have achieved something worthwhile.

It might also be argued that what I am doing is evincing a lack of self-discipline.Grace Flag 01.4 Certainly, writing to a format requires a certain degree of discipline, but I already do that. Most authors do. Any kind of good writing demands a discipline. It is a lonely occupation. Even flights of fancy, like the fantasy novel that I am currently working on, necessitate a disciplined approach. Like all my other books it has had a methodical approach. I have not changed my method of writing simply because the story belongs in another genre. The book had a rough first draft, major characters have back-stories, and I have built up a style-sheet, background notes, plot arc, and a second draft. What I have not done is looked at what is popular in the fantasy genre at the moment, which is because I want my book to be original. I am not writing a shallow version of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, I am writing something different.

When it comes down to it the real difference between writing to format and being original is that the latter means having the courage of your convictions. To write well in a story that is not aimed at any particular audience is to write with a belief in your

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I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

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I wish I had written the lyrics and not just used them for a title to this blog, but they belong to Messrs Jagger and Richards so I will have to be content with enjoying the song if not the sentiment. And the song is of course all about frustration. So is writing. In that it is not unique. There are so many aspects of human life that expose us to frustration of one type or another.

For the most part I find things other than writing are the cause of my frustrations, a lack of time to sit and actually do the writing bit is my particular peeve. That is not what I am complaining about today, however. No, today it is formatting. I am not sure if I have touched on this subject previously but formatting is an important and boring part of the job of being a writer these days.

I write using Microsoft Word. It is a word-processor that I know very well and consequently I am comfortable with it. The problem is that when submitting my manuscript to Kindle they did not, in the past at least, mention that they convert the Word document into the EPUB format and that this can cause problems. When writing in Word the program automatically puts code into the text. There is nothing suspicious about this, it is not some proof of the existence of the Matrix, it is just designed to help display our lovingly written words in the best possible light. The existence of this code can cause problems during the conversion process though.

When I published my first novel, The War Wolf, I was unaware of this problem simply because Kindle Direct Publishing did not mention it at the submission stage. I was horrified when I saw how the first version looked! There were all kinds of mistakes in the body of the text. I quickly investigated the matter and discovered that I should have removed all the pretty formatting from my manuscript prior to submitting it.

Back in the early days of ePublishing it was quite common for reviewers to complain about weird looking lines in the body of the text, but they, like the author, probably did not realise that there were technical reasons for this. I have since discovered that converting the Word file to an RTF file, or putting it through a program like Sigil, can cure the affliction of spurious formatting, as can converting it to a PDF, which is very easy to do.

As I am finishing The Blade’s Fell Blow I find myself thinking about this formatting issue. I have taken to writing my books using Createspace’s Word template as I like having a paperback version of my books. The manuscript is formatted accordingly, with different sized fonts for headings and use of italics for emphasis where necessary. My intent is to make the text look good to the reader and also uniform in respect of the two previous books in the series. Once I am happy with the way it looks, however, the frustration part will kick in. It is then that I will have to consider how I re-format the manuscript for uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing.

This not really a monumental task, just tedious. For an author with a publisher it is something that they do not even have to consider, people are employed to do this on their behalf. I am still waiting to have that luxury. Apart from the interminable checking that everything is okay, which it seldom is on the first attempt, or even attempts, what I find frustrating about the whole process is knowing in the back of my mind that I could be writing instead!

I want to write.

I do not want to do all the file conversions, the self-promotions, and the website maintenance. I want to be like a reasonably successful author and spend my time crafting enjoyable tales. It is frustration avoidance of course. It is also just a dream at the moment. The fact is that I am going to have to bite the bullet and bury myself in the formatting and re-formatting process in order to get my book other there for people to read. If there is anything that helps keep me going it is the idea that someone will read my book, it would be nice if they gave me a review as well but that is another matter.

So, in all honesty, the title of this blog is a little misleading as I can get some satisfaction at the end of the process. To be honest the whole procedure of producing a novel in both hard and soft copy has got easier over the years. This may well be because I am no longer a stranger, or even inexperienced, in the whole process from original idea to finished product. In fact I would say that that has a lot to do with it. Experience is a very valuable asset to have. The Blade’s Fell Blow will be my fourth novel and it will be available in both paperback and eBook formats. I must be getting some satisfaction somewhere then?!

 

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From the Silent Page to the Talkies

Audiobook concept

I have had several readers ask me if I was going to produce an audio book version of my work and I have to admit that I found the idea quite interesting. I have listened to a couple of audio books myself, although not on a regular basis. The market for this kind of product seems to be growing so I decided to have a closer look at what is involved in the process of turning a written piece into an audio piece.

My first discovery was that it is potentially very expensive. You are paying someone for their time and skill in reading allowed the words that you have written. For an author who is already successful this might not seem to great an obstacle. Indeed, for such authors even famous actors will take a turn at the microphone and add their name to the product. For an independent author like me, however, the upfront cost is indeed a barrier to success.

There are alternatives of course, the first being read it yourself. I tried this by investing in a microphone and a piece of software to record my voice; I sounded awful! I really hated the sound of my own voice. Perhaps I could have improved things by investing in better recording equipment, even used a little voice distortion, but to be honest the sounds coming out of the speaker just turned me off to the idea.

Another route, and one I have seen promoted over the internet, is the use of Text To Speech (TTS) engines. These are pieces of software that use a recorded voice to ‘read’ your text. If you have heard a Sat-Nav giving directions you will understand exactly what I mean. Some people use these to turn eBooks into Audio books. I tried them myself but I was not convinced. They are, obviously, very robotic even when done by someone with an accent. I also found that any unusual words, and The War Wolf has a few from Middle-English, can prove too challenging for a robot voice.

To be honest I had given up on this idea but then another reader asked the same question and so I had another look at the whole situation. That was when I discovered Audio Book Creation Exchange (ACX). I have to admit that I found this to be a very exciting development. Basically ACX matches authors with narrators (they call them producers but I find that term a little confusing) and vice versa. There are several ways to arrange payment, for strugglers like me the 50/50 royalty share is the best way forward. The idea is simple, I, as the author, make my book available, and someone, as the narrator, records themselves reading it, which could take up to eleven hours apparently. The finished recording is then sent to ACX who turn it into an audio book and, in partnership with them, it is distributed to a new audience.

I made up my mind to give it a try and posted an invitation for narrators to audition for my book on a 50/50 royalty share basis. I got some auditions and they proved quite interesting. I think that I was right to remove myself from the recording process, after listening to these talented people I clearly had no hope of doing my own work justice. Eventually I chose a narrator by the name of Jack Glanville. We are in the process of discussing turning not only The War Wolf into an audio book but also the other two volumes in the Sorrow Song trilogy. He’s very keen on this idea.

My next step is to provide Jack with some background material as to characters, Saxon culture and society, and the general scope of the books. Nothing heavy, just pointers in the right direction. Then we agree a contract with dates for the recording to be conducted. If I am happy with his work, which I expect to be after hearing his audition, the book moves towards being properly produced and a new door opens for me and, by association, Jack as well.

I will write more on this as things develop.

War Wolf

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In Need of Reviews

Grace Flag 01.4Eugenica appears to be a difficult book to get people to interested in. I suppose the themes of the book, the persecution of the disabled for example, are not that attractive. I can understand that there is nothing attractive either about the issue or the nature of disability. Nevertheless, wrapped around that theme is a rather positive story that attempts to portray the disabled in a very constructive and affirming way.

Although eugenics and its rather more infamous cousin, dysgenics, are not attractive to most readers today the spirit of adventure, I believe, always is. At its heart, Eugenica is an adventure story. It features mystery, discovery, fights, chases, and narrow escapes. There are heroes and villains, a femme fatale, a (bit of a) mad scientist, a superman, and a monster. The characters use cars, trains, aeroplanes, and even an airship. All the stuff of high adventure really.

I think that this book is a very good read. No, a damn good read, actually. I want to spread the word and to that end, I am looking for people who will read this book for FREE under only one obligation, which is that they will provide an honest constructive criticism of it.

That is the deal. I will provide a free eBook for you eReader and you, in return, will send me a totally honest review. I do not want flattery. I do not want appeasement. I want honesty and integrity. If you are interested then please leave a message below or contact me at: petecwhit@gmail.com

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