Wednesday, 29 February 2012

First review of Bad Moon Rising

Yesterday I posted about my soon to be released psychological thriller, Bad Moon Rising, written under the pen name of Frances di Plino. Today I am thrilled to say that the first prelaunch review is in and it’s a cracker! Published author Jo Reed has given the thumbs up and I am so happy I could scream (but I won’t because Frances likes the sound just a little too much).

Please drop in and read the full review on her blog, but here is a flavour of it: "It takes a good writer to put a terrifyingly dark, twisted mind centre stage..." and “Di Plino has created a complex, very human detective in Inspector Paolo Storey, and as the curtain falls on his first case, his audience is left hoping it won’t be the last.”

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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ten days to publication

My alter ego, Frances di Plino, has taken over our shared mind and body and forced me to make this post. Bad Moon Rising, her debut novel, will be released by Crooked {Cat} Publishing on Friday March the 9th. She is very excited about this and so am I (the sane and sensible one).

If you’d like to be part of the big event, there is a launch page to which all are welcome.

I’m quite sure she’ll coerce me to make more posts as the countdown continues and I’m going to have to comply as she’s the very, very scary one who writes dark psychological thrillers. I'm the nice one (just don't let my husband know I said that as he might die laughing).

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Friday, 24 February 2012

Formatting and Layout

Paddy from Ireland sent in the following email: I'm reading a Jennifer Johnston novel at the moment.  I notice that whenever she goes into flashback, she uses italics. Is this necessary, desirable or purely at the discretion of the author?

The important point is to avoid confusing your readers. The author has to signal that the writing is moving into flashback scene. You can do this by using italics, as Jennifer Johnston does, but it isn’t strictly necessary. 

Leaving a clear line of space and not indenting the opening paragraph signals to the reader that you have moved to a new scene, so as long as your opening sentence shows clearly that we are now reliving a moment from the past, you don’t need to use italics. Having said that, lots of writers prefer to show the entire flashback in italics – it’s up to the individual author and also the publisher’s house style.

Julia from Cambridge had a formatting concern. She said: When we submit email entries to competitions, or any email submissions really, should we indent paragraphs by pressing the space key or by setting the tab? Which do you prefer? I ask you this because you once commented on my tabs in a competition critique not being right and I wondered if this was because I indent by pressing the space bar?

I would advise against using tabs or the spacebar. What I do for my own work is set automatic indents using the paragraph settings from the menu. When I’ve finished the document, I go back and simply remove the indent in the opening paragraph by backspacing.

I know editors prefer writers to set indents in this way because it is easier for them to change the formatting when it comes time to laying out magazine or website content. If you indent with the spacebar or tabs, each indent has to be manually removed (or the editor has to remove all formatting from the text), which, of course, causes more work in the layout stage.

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Monday, 20 February 2012

Critically Speaking

In the course of my work I get to see a lot of rewritten stories and novels and I’m always astounded at how quickly writers resubmit after receiving a critique.

Considering the writers are coughing up good money for the benefit of someone’s advice, it seems a bit odd not to take the time to at least digest the comments and suggestions. All too often, within a few days of a critique going out, the story reappears in my inbox (often with a note saying it has been rewritten following the advice given). Um, no, usually all that has happened is a few minor corrections have been made to tidy things up, but the major errors to do with plot, characterisation, dialogue and other important factors remain.

So, here’s some advice on how to get the most from a critique, whether it has been paid for, given freely on a peer review site, or is feedback from a writing buddy.

Do Nothing

That’s right. Do nothing. Don’t set to and rewrite immediately. Take a few days to read and reread the comments and suggestions. Only after absorbing the feedback and letting it run through your subconscious will you be able to decide which aspects of the criticism are valid and which would take your work in a direction you don’t want it to go.

Make Notes

Once you’ve absorbed the criticism, make notes on how to deal with it. How are you going to fix the plot holes? What layers can you add to give depth to the storyline? How are you going to flesh out the characters to make them less wooden? What can you do to improve the dialogue? How can you make transitions into and out of flashbacks smoother? What can you do to improve the settings? How can you balance telling and showing?

On this last point, don’t let anyone tell you that you should always show and not tell. A piece of advice given to me some time ago, which I felt summed up the balance perfectly, is to show (using dialogue and interaction to dramatise) what’s important and to tell (using narration to link dramatised scenes) what isn’t.


Okay, now you have your notes, it’s time to rewrite. If you’ve followed steps one and two above you should now be in a good position to make a really good job of the rewrite.

Be Patient

Put your rewritten story out of your mind for a few weeks. Don’t read it again until at least a week has gone by, but the longer you can leave it, the better it will be for you. It’s impossible to read something objectively too soon after you’ve been working on it. Take the time to write something new – or rewrite another story.

Read Critically

Get out the original critique and your notes and read your story with these in mind. Have you covered everything? If you stumble over a minor point, don’t tell yourself it’s nothing to worry about – make notes on how to fix it.

Finished? Nope, not even close. Repeat steps 1-5 until the story is the best it can possibly be. Then, and only then, resubmit it to the competition. However, by then it might be so good that you could submit it to a competition with even better prize money.
This first appeared as a guest post on the blog of my good friend and fellow writer Maureen Vincent-Northam

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Friday, 17 February 2012

A Few Pointers for Flash Fiction

I critique flash fiction for my Flash 500 Competition entrants and I find many writers make the basic error of thinking an anecdote or character sketch counts as a complete story. That isn’t the case at all. Flash fiction has to cover all the elements of a longer story, but in fewer words. Impossible? Not if you bear the following tips in mind.

Know your theme
Before you even start to write, you need to know what you want your readers to take from the story. Don’t confuse this with the plot, which is the vehicle you will use to convey the theme.

Give the characters a reason to be on the page. Give them some kind of goal, something to achieve or an obstacle to overcome. Make life difficult for them. The story has to have plenty of conflict or tension and a satisfying (but not necessarily happy) resolution. If using humour, remember that there has to more to the story than the punch line at the end. There has to be a definite plot – a reason why the story is being told.

Characters and settings
Pick one main character and have everything and everyone else revolve around him or her, but keep the supporting cast to a minimum. Only include characters who are essential to the story’s outcome.

Don’t have your characters moving from place to place. Try to keep the action in one locality. You don’t have to go overboard with descriptions of people or places – you can hint at settings and only need to describe people if that aspect is important to the story. For example, if the story is about life in an old folks home, we need to know that, but we don’t need details on what each resident looks like.

The main event
Choose one critical moment in the main character’s life and show how this impacts on the outcome. Pick the setting, the pivotal moment, the consequence. This is what the story must focus on.

The hook
Open with a bang as close to the action as you can and provide the reader with a compelling reason to read on.

Show, don’t tell
I know, I know, you’re sick to death of reading this, but it is such an important aspect of all fiction, especially flash where you don’t have the available words to tell the reader everything they need to know. You have to show it using succinct dialogue and the characters’ actions and interaction.

Back-story boredom
Keep the back-story to the absolute minimum. If it doesn’t impact on the story, don’t put it in. If it is really is essential to the story (are you sure it is?), use as few words as possible to put us in the picture.

Let’s twist again
If your story has a twist (and many flash fiction stories do) keep the reveal as near to the end as possible. Once you’ve put it on the page – END THE STORY. Too often writers feel they need to explain or show what happens next. In a twist story, the twist is the end and there is nothing more to say.

Edit, edit, edit
You don’t have to count words as you write. It doesn’t matter if the story starts out far too long, that’s what the editing process is for. Cut the purple prose and remove unnecessary dialogue. Delete the adverbs and use stronger verbs.

Is it flash?
Not all stories are able to be condensed. If there is too much story to tell in 500 words, then all the editing in the world is not going to make it work. It is better to write something completely new than trying to cut a 2,000 word story into something it was never meant to be.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Creating an Epic

Kimi’s Secret

On Creating an Epic

A guest post by John Hudspith

Define `epic` – ambitious, grand, classic, larger-than-life.

This is what I wanted to do - produce something big, ambitious, classic, larger-than-life, a stage as large as our own where my stories could be played out, with enough space to keep on growing and growing.

So how did it happen? I started with failure. My first attempt at a novel went prune-shaped about three quarters of the way through. I lost the plot. Too many holes. Ineffective opportunities to link the important plot points and bring conclusion or closure. I’d failed through lack of planning, wasted a whole lot of time. Turning this negative into a positive was a must.

So I started anew and got down to some serious planning.

Since early childhood, when my parents revealed to me the secrets of the movies, about how special effects and monsters and film ghosts were all just trickeries of makeup and clever filming, my interest in the paranormal world was instilled. Always a sceptic, I loved, over the years, looking into news reports of UFOs or poltergeists or strange, unexplained happenings. Knowing The Truth was Out There, I realised I had the means to create my stage – an otherworld where everything paranormal lives and works and can be accounted for. 

This world would exist in another dimension and be called Heart (an anagram of Earth) because Heart is the control centre of the mixed up Earth, its population of Balancers and Adepts forever striving to right Earth’s wrongs.

I made a list of the paranormal, supernatural, and mythical, and began slotting them into Heart’s physiology, inventing a plausible cause/history and a meaning for being, for each element, slowly realising that ghosts went well with aliens, and went well fairies and piskies, and things that go bump in the night.

This was taking shape, and I realised more layers could be added. Heroic balancers who had become adept at the art of mojo manipulation became just that – heroes of achievement, each in their own right yet each with fallible sides and promise of chaos.

Every edit and rewrite brought fresh ideas: I worked in the nods to my inspirations and to my family and friends. I worked in some symbolism for numbers freaks, worked in some history and some grins for older readers, worked in more ingredients that even Mary Berry would have been proud.

This plan, this supposed epic, was looking good, but I had to be careful not to copy or become cliché.
So my witches and wizards became balancers, magic became mojo, fairies became mice with wings and my stage was looking promising. It was time to add some props and some flesh to the world of Heart and I began with some four feet x three feet cardboard sheets, applying notes, sketches, clippings of the latest paranormal events happening in our real news, pictures of celebrities to help my story characters take shape. Stephen Fry played the part of Mr Purse, the Sky at Night’s Sir Patrick Moore took the part of Charlie Babbage, Billy Connolly played the giant: Big Sue, Christina Ricci fitted the part of Stella – the list goes on – pictures of these slebs were taped to my boards and my characters began to take shape.

Then I found Kimi - in the form of Farrell Smith from 2009’s Britain’s Got Talent. She fit the bill and got the starring role. My sketches and ideas grew. I wanted to use everything paranormal, wanted to link it all together, wanted to go one step further and bring aliens and dimensional time-travel into play, wanted to THINK BIG – ambitious, classic, larger than life.

One year later and my new world stood before me. Its history, culture, and science all firmly in place; its inhabitants bustling with their lives and traditions. The stage was set, and, by this time, I also had my story. Well, not a full story. I had a start and an end. It was time to write.

After a few false starts I unleashed the first two chapters on my peers. The critique was not what I’d hoped for: `nice idea, poor start` seemed to be the consensus.

I followed the steers of my peers and eventually found the right line, that line of believability where reader is willing to suspend belief because writer has convinced him to do so.

Another year to write the story, and while I was doing just that, something unexpected and wonderful happened. Anne Stormont had read the opening chapters on YouWriteOn. She said she was excited by the writing, could see potential, and invited me to be virtual resident author for her school’s writing groups. After handing Anne her hand back, we all got stuck in. The pupils pushed Kimi further than ever, made their demands on how the story should go, how Kimi should act. They told me what they loved and what they didn’t; helped give Kimi a better polish than I ever could have on my own. 

Another few months to chip and mould and polish.

And then I took a step back and looked at my epic. I was satisfied. It was a good production. Solid. I liked it, and my beta readers begged for more. It was time to submit.

After many rejections, one agent took a nibble. They loved the writing, and the story, but wanted it condensed, stripped by 40%. Production costs need to be kept down, they said, especially for a debut author.

I took this as good news, looked over the plot to see how I could take some things out and reduce page time to others. Yes, I thought, this is achievable. I went to work, stripping away from scenes, removing scenes, all the while with my eye on a heavily reduced word count.

After five chapters – I stopped. This was not my book, my way, my story, was not Kimi. So I slept on it for a day or two before declining to go any further. I wanted Kimi the way it was. It had to be that way. It was my classic. My epic. Vain and stupid? Maybe.

The opening chapters won one of youwriteon’s BOTY awards along with the offer of publication, so I decided to take their offer and get Kimi out there.

Then a second magical event. Nuance Words asked to get involved with Kimi, to help get Kimi seen by the many. After handing the wonderful Jill Marsh her hand back (I was becoming apt at hand snatching), she and her team got to work, and in two shakes of a dodo’s tail Kimi had a website, a Facebook page,  a podcast, a soundtrack, and the activity continues…school competitions are about to start, there’s a wee film being made, press-packs being put together, and Kimi is out there growing a fan base and making good sales. 

But not tremendous sales. I knew it wasn’t `commercially formed`, knew that I’d flushed instant gold down the pan by refusing to have vampire lust in my writing, knew that Kimi might, to me, be classic and epic, but that by her very nature it might take some time before Universal Studios pick up the phone. 

Kimi is not selling tons like the romance writers, nor is she selling truckloads like the blood writers, but she is selling, is being enjoyed, is bringing home great reviews, and her first Amazon pay check bought a slap up family meal from Mr Wongs and a few bottles of plonk. 

Kimi is being read, and that for me, is simply the best.

I’m now writing a second adventure for Kimi, and finding it to be a breeze. Having the stage and props already in place, the characters fleshed and still recovering from their previous escapades, all makes getting the story down so much easier. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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