Plotting the Story

I have been working on a fantasy novel for quite awhile now but it seems to be getting stuck. At first I thought that this was a fault of the protagonist in that his character had not seemed to form in the way that I had expected. I did a review of him and quite naturally found some improvements that I could make. Having done this I went back to work on the writing again but once more I found myself being dissuaded by yet another blockage in the creative process. I decided to take yet another break from this book and think it over, again.

Curiously, the thought of abandoning the book has not occurred to me. I like the basic story and I have enjoyed creating a fictional reality for it to take place in. It is not a question of the amount of work that has already gone into this project. I believe that I instinctively know when an idea has run out of steam and I do not think that this one had. While distracting myself with learning how to paint in 3D I had an idea that the problem with this book is that there are too many sub-plots going on.

Actually, that is not quite right, as a quick review of my notes revealed, it is really a questing of the book’s plotting; it is all wrong!

Of all my books so far this one has the most going on. Not only is there the main story but there are various sub-plots as well. I wanted to include these for the sake of giving the book depth, which in turn, I believe, gives the fantasy world more validity. That is just my approach to writing. The main plot is working at a higher level, involving important people, kings, priests, diplomats, and the protagonist. Below that are several more stories that concern more everyday characters. I used this technique successfully in the Sorrow Song Trilogy. In 1066 the main story follows the struggles of King Harold of England, King Hardrada of Norway, and Duke Guillaume of Normandy. Running alongside this is the stories of people lower down the hierarchy, Mildryth, Wolfhere, Edwin the Shield Bearer, and such. However, with the Sorrow Song Trilogy the pacing was relatively easy as each book is driven by the approach of a battle. I have found with the fantasy story that although there is the inevitable conflict it does not tie all of the sub-plots up in the same way. This is why, I believe, the pacing is off.

I have decided to go back to the beginning of the creative process and plot out the book in much greater detail than I had originally. This can be a little frustrating as it means suspending the writing again but it is also an opportunity to do other practical things as well. It offers me a chance to do some editing, I have already removed one sub-plot altogether, to question the need for some of the more superfluous characters, and to focus more attention on those that remain, to define and develop them more.

Different people do the same thing in different ways. For myself, I like to plot my books using a spreadsheet. How I lay out the plot seems to differ with each book, however. For Eugenica I had two main plots that ran parallel to each other and then collided to form the conclusion. For Mesozoic there was only one plot that was diverted by character actions rather than sub-plots. For the fantasy book I discovered that I needed something that put everything into a chronological order first and then highlighted where the various plot threads impacted upon each other. I am already beginning to see some benefits from this work. As mentioned earlier I have removed an entire sub-plot already. This little story obviously had interest to me or else I would not have written it but when I reviewed it I decided that it did not really contribute much to the story and slowed the pace down. Plotting can seem like an unattractive task but like most other things associated with writing it can aid the creative process. In relation to a book that is intentionally complicated by the various themes it looks to draw upon then I think proper plotting is absolutely essential.

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Well, That Looks a Bit Familiar!

I was browsing through Facebook the other night and got a bit of a surprise. Okay, it is not really surprising to get a surprise from social media, I know, but this one was closer to home than anything else that I have encountered. It did not involved a cat or an example of stupid human behaviour or even a photograph of somewhere amazing that I have actually visited. No, this surprise related to something that I had done myself in a creative capacity, it was this:

BCornwell War Wolf

That above is the cover of Bernard Cornwell’s new book, The War of the Wolf. This is why I was surprised:

My War Wolf

That is the cover of my novel, The War Wolf. I think that I can see one or two similarities.

I published my book in 2013 through Amazon. Prior to doing that I contacted several literary agents in a vain attempt to go down the traditional publishing route. One of them was Bernard Cornwell’s own agent. They declined to represent me stating that they could not be sure where to place my book, a historical fiction novel, to get it published. Obviously, they did not have a similar problem with Bernard’s work!

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. I do believe that coincidences can and do happen. However, sometimes there are facts behind an apparent coincidence that are just too suggestive of something else. Now, it might just be that Bernard Cornwell and the people who work with him have never heard of or seen my book, except his agent of course. It might just be that the subject material inevitably suggests similar things to the imaginations of different people who are exploring it. I cannot speak for Bernard Cornwell and his people of course but here is how I came to produce my book.

When I started writing my novel had the working title of ‘The Battle of Fulford Gate’. I knew that it was not really very catchy but as I was writing about the actual Battle of Fulford Gate in 1066 I was quite happy to use it. As part of my research into the period I read the poem Beowulf. I had read it many years previously and I thought that it might contribute something to all three novels. I am not sure what in particular but in the end Beowulf gave me the titles to all three of my Saxon books. The War Wolf gets its name from this passage:

“War-wolf horrid, at Heorot found a warrior watching and waiting the fray”.

In my imagination the War Wolf was King Hardrada of Norway invading England, Heorot was York, and Coenred was the warrior waiting for the fight to begin. It all seemed to fit together very nicely and gave the story something of an epic feel.

For the cover of the book I wanted something that, to my mind at least, captured the elements of that quote. I created a banner decorated with an idealised wolf in the style of Saxon art. Below it is a Saxon warrior wearing the famous Coppergate Helmet, which was found in York. I used green as a base colour and found that yellow for the fonts worked very well. The composition proved to be both simple and effective. I was able to use the same design with a few singular adaptations for the other two books in the series. This, I believe, gives them an identity as a trilogy.

That is a brief account of how I came to create the cover and choose the title of my book, unfortunately, I do not know the story behind Bernard Cornwell’s novel.

When I showed the the picture of Bernard Cornwell’s book to my wife she was rather angry. She urged me to contact him and complain. I am not sure what I can complain about though. I think that there is a passing resemblance between the two, superficially at least, but I doubt that it extends to the story within. My book is concerned with the end of the Saxon world whereas Bernard’s appears to be about the beginning of it. The War of the Wolf is, I believe, book 11 in his Lost Kingdom series. I suppose that I could assert that imitation is the best form of flattery and take satisfaction in the fact that a struggling to be recognised writer has, even if inadvertently, been recognised by a successful writer in this manner.

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The Audio Book Cometh!

audiobook

At long last the audio book version of my first novel, The War Wolf, is imminent. The project to turn a good read into a good listen has taken longer than I anticipated but I believe that the wait has been worthwhile. Despite various problems along the way, both personal and technical, the end is now in sight.

My narrator, Jack Glanville, has done a great job. He tells me that he thoroughly enjoyed reading the script and that this made it much easier to complete. I found this quite encouraging. Jack explained that he had looked at several projects but that most of them were not of a quality that he wanted to put his name to, he liked the sound of The War Wolf, however. As he worked on the recording he followed the adventures of the main characters, Coenred and Mildryth, with interest. It is a truth that we do our best work when we enjoy what we are doing.

Within a few days the finished audio book will be ready for release. I am going to put together an advertising campaign. I have a bit of experience in this having published five novels to date, I also have no allusions about being successful. There is so much material out there that the market often seems swamped, well, in respect of eBooks at least. The audio book market is growing and, at least at the moment, does not seem to have been overwhelmed with sub-standard works. This may have something to do with talented people like Jack being more discerning about what they want to put their name to? I hope so.

I am not thinking about how many copies I might sell. Of course I want the book to be a success and I am certainly not against receiving a handsome amount of money in royalties, shared 50/50 with Jack, but the creative process is also important to me. I really enjoy the act of artistic creation. Although most of the work in transferring my work from written book to audio book has been completed by other people, Jack with his vocal performance and the technicians at ACX, the original words are all mine.

It is quite exciting to be exploring new artistic frontiers. Just when I was beginning to feel that the eBook environment was becoming stale with poor quality submissions a new area of creative possibility opens up. I will be putting a lot of effort into advertising my new audio book but I will also be working on two new books. I am also in the process of revamping my website. I suppose that when you do something that you feel passionate about the activity itself can become almost self-perpetuating. It may just be a hobby at the moment but it is proving such a rewarding pursuit that just doing it has become enough of a reason to continue writing.

Further information about Jack Glanville’s work can be found here: Vojack – Voice Actor

War Wolf

 

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KENP – What is it good for?

New Markets

KENP stands for Kindle Edition Normalized Pages. If an author enrols their book in KDP Select then Amazon customer who are members of either Kindle Unlimited (KU) or Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) get to read that book at no further cost to themselves. Amazon pay royalty to the author based on how many pages have been read. Although Amazon claims that an author can earn as much as $2000 for a book 200 pages long I have never earned anything close to this figure, my current royalty is listed as £1.25 ($1.67)! I have five novels enrolled in KDP Select and all of them are over 200 pages long but my royalty payments are paltry.

To be honest the money is not the real issue. It is a fact of life in ePublishing that reviews drive sales. The more reviews book has the more likely a browsing reader is going to stop, have a look, and maybe buy a book that has plenty of positive reviews. I might be wrong but it seems to me that KENP customer do not leave reviews. Despite having plenty of pages read I am not aware of any of my books receiving a review as a result under this system. This situation has led me to wondering if KDP Select is worth anything to me at all?

Exclusivity can be very beneficial if it brings with it certain, well, benefits. When I began publishing my work with Amazon it certainly appeared to be worthwhile, I was selling about 1000 books a year. As time has passed the number of books in the marketplace has increased enormously. I am a reader of eBooks as well as a writer and I have to admit that the quality of many books on offer is rather poor. I do not believe that the quota of bad to good books is as large as some people have suggested but it is probably greater than that in the traditional publishing medium. Obviously, this is because there are no quality checks in the eBook markets, either with Amazon or any other publisher. I have read complaints from several would-be eBook readers who have been put off because their first attempts of finding a book has resulted in them finding only badly written stories, which is a pity. As it stands both a good and a bad book can be enrolled into KDP Select. The only merit that this enrolment brings, in my opinion, is that KU and KOLL customers get to read it for free, although KU carries with it a monthly subscription and KOLL is a part of Amazon Prime, and that Amazon pay a pittance to the author.

There are other marketplaces out there other than Amazon of course. Yes, Amazon is just about the biggest at the moment but that does not mean that It is the best. If I choose not to enrol my books in KDP Select then what will I really be losing? A few pounds a month at worst. Now, if Amazon required or even encouraged their KU and KOLL customer to write even a basic review with an accompanying star rating for the books that they got to read I could see a genuine benefit to the exclusivity, but they do not. I cannot help wondering why this is? It seems to me that if readers exploiting the KDP Select exclusivity did submit reviews then this would help improve the quality of books available to them. In turn this would improve the perception of the eBook generally and this in turn would lead to more sales, which is surely what a business like Amazon wants is not it?

As things stand I see less and less appeal in remaining exclusive to Amazon. My books end their KDP Select enrolment at the end of this month and I have already deselected the the tick-box for automatic inclusion for another three months while I go and look at other market places. It seems to me that I can afford to lose £1.25 if it results in finding a wider audience out there, beyond the realm of Amazon.

 

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Time to Adapt

Most situations are learning opportunities. Do not worry, this is not going to turn into some kind of motivational essay. The fact is that when I came home from hospital I was frustrated by not being able to get back to writing as quickly as possible. One of the reasons for this was that the laptop that I  had been using was just too big and heavy. It works well for photograph manipulation and digital art but when you have to keep one leg elevated it just weighed too much. Also, I made the mistake of allowing Microsoft to persuade me to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Before the upgrade the laptop worked great, afterwards it just labours with even the most basic chores. The fault was mine, I should have been stronger, but I made the mistake.

To rectify things I decided to indulge myself and buy a new laptop. Well, really the plan was to by a new PC but my study still only exists in my imagination and I do not yet have the money necessary to purchase the kind of PC that I really want. I decided to get a basic laptop instead. My reason for going basic was practical in that I had a fixed budget of between £300 to £400. Also, I wanted to go smaller than the Behemoth so that it would be easier to carry around. I decided that what I needed was something that I could use mostly for writing. After looking at reviews I settled on the ACER Swift 1. I have to admit that my decision was swayed by the number of students who praised this machine for being light, robust, easy to set up, and easy to use. I was also able to buy it for £330 so it was well within my budget.

It is a basic laptop, there is no doubt about that, but even thought I am new to it I am finding the ACER Swift to be everything the student reviewers said it was. The body is made from metal so it is robust and yet light enough not to be a burden. It sits on my lap comfortably even with one leg elevated. Setting the machine up on first use was a doddle. I am a computer user, not an expert. I have found getting things like email working and connecting to the internet a real trial in the past. With the Swift 1 I just breezed through the process. I have to admit that it was the most painless setting up of a computer that I have ever known.

This is the very first piece that I have written and to be honest I have enjoyed doing it. I am using WPS Writer in preference to Microsoft Word. I was initially delighted to find that Word was included on the laptop but when I opened it Microsoft were waiting for me with a begging bowl. The fact that I already have a paid for version of Word on my other computer does not mean anything, if I wanted to use the one that they had thoughtfully installed on this one for me then I was going to have to pay for the pleasure. Fortunately for me I had discovered WPS Writer earlier and I was already toying with the idea of using it, Microsoft just made my mind up for me. WPS Writer looks so much like Word that I have had no problem finding my way around it.

I feel like I am moving on. My foot is healing, although I did have a setback due to a recent infection, I have a new laptop, and I am able to write again. Also, England are doing well in the World Cup!

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And He’s Back!

I have been out of action due to surgery but I was not expecting the recovery to be so frustratingly slow. For the most part I have had to remain almost horizontal, which has meant using my computer has been practically impossible. I have done no writing since early April. However, I seem to have reached a milestone. I am now able to sit normally and use my laptop again. This is such a relief.

War WolfAlthough I have been on the sidelines for an extended period things have been moving on. The War Wolf has finished recording as an audiobook and is now in the final production stage with publication pending. I am very excited about moving into the audiobook world. I am lucky in finding a great voice actor in Jack Glanville, not least because he enjoyed reading my book. In fact he got so into the role that we had to re-submit several pieces from the more active scenes because he got carried away with the action and exceeded the decibel limit for audiobooks! It has delayed the final publishing date but it is worth it, believe me.

Book Cover 01Mesozoic, my time travel dinosaur adventure, has received its first review on Amazon and it is a 5 star rating! I am always happy to receive reviews. When I first started writing I told myself that I would be happy for just one person I did not know to read my book and tell me that they enjoyed it. Since then several thousand have read my work, unfortunately far fewer have published their thoughts in the way of a review.

On the same subject my alternate history adventure, Eugenica, also benefitted from a new review. I have to admit that I find this book rather perplexing in that everyone who has read it has told me that they have thoroughly enjoyed the story but getting people to read it initially appears to be a real Grace Flag 01.4problem. I can think of a lot of reasons as to why this might be, the subject of eugenics for example or the fact that the main characters are all disabled, but at its heart Eugenica is a very positive story. It is a tale that relates the triumph of the human spirit over adversity against overwhelming odds. At least writer of Eugenica’s latest review seems to agree with me on that.

Now that I am able to sit up and do some work I am looking forward to finishing two books that have been in stasis for a little while. The first is ‘Queen of the Mountain Kingdom’, a fantasy with a different approach to the genre. I realized late on that there was something not quite right with the protagonist, I think that I have figured out what the problem is and I am keen to rewrite some sections to develop a missing aspect of the character. The second book, which only has the working title of ‘The Vintage Detective’ is a whodunit. There is still plenty of work to do on this one but I really enjoyed what I have managed to write and I am looking forward to getting back and completing this project.

So there we are. I am making my return and a prolonged enforced absence. Hopefully I won’t be going through this experience again, rather I will be spending my time writing!

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Back on Track and Looking for New Audio Book Adventures

I have had my surgery and been discharged from the hospital. The long journey to recovery has begun. It took a little while but I have also managed to set up my laptop so that I can use it for as long as I am comfortable each day.

Some time ago I submitted my first novel, The War Wolf, for adaptation to become an audio-book. The process took a little longer than I expected and there was some frustration along the way but the narrator I chose, one Jack Glanville, has done an excellent job. I am currently reviewing the chapters that he has submitted. It is something quite entertaining to hear a talented voice artist reading your own story. I am sure that Jack’s obvious talent enhances the experience. Previously, I have only heard my work spoken by the electronic voices of ‘Text to Speech’ engines. That was fun as well, but it does not compare to hearing someone who actually enjoys what they are doing delivering your words.

War Wolf

As I sit here listening to my book being read, almost like a radio play, I cannot help but think that I was very lucky in finding Jack Glanville. He became a professional voice actor after agreeing to do my books, which caused a delay in getting the project going, but I am glad that I was patient with him. We have an agreement for him to complete the entire ‘Sorrow Song Trilogy’. I thought at the time that it would be more professional to have the same actor do all three books and he agreed. This is a project that stands to benefit both of us. If the audio-book proves to be at least as successful as the eBook then my work is going to be exposed to many more new readers, or should that be listeners. For Jack it another kind of exposure. I am sure that his talent will be quickly recognised. He has a very clear and charismatic reading voice. I believe that even a moderate success for the book will lead to great success for the both of us in the near future.

My time is somewhat limited, however. This is the first day that I have spent tapping away at my keyboard since undergoing the surgery. I can feel my foot and lower leg becoming uncomfortable, as it does every day. I can distract myself for so long by doing other things, but ultimately I have to recognise the fact that I am in pain and that I need to rest as my reserves of energy have not yet returned to their normal level.

Although producing ‘The War Wolf’ as an audio-book is exciting and attractive in that it does not require too much of me, I still have plans for continuing with my writing. There are two other projects that require my attention sooner rather than later. The first is the fantasy novel that I started several months ago. I stopped writing when I realised that I needed to review the protagonist. I have done that now and I think that I know what to do to make him more deserving of the reader’s sympathy. It will not take much to re-write his parts and the largest part of the book, some 70% I reckon, is already complete in the second draft.

The second project is a whodunit murder mystery that seemed to run out of steam. The story is not long enough for a novel at the moment. This is not a problem, more of an observation. I need to work on the plot more and introduce some further twists and probably one or two more characters. As this is my first foray into the murder mystery genre I am not surprised that I have run into this problem. I do not find it discouraging, however, more of a challenge really.

In conclusion, my hiatus due to medical issues has come to an end. I may not be back to full strength yet but writing is, once again, featuring on my horizon.

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