Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Getting to know … Nik Morton

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
I suspect one reason why I don’t have an agent is that I don’t specialise in any particular genre. While I’ve sold more westerns than other genres, my published books are also in the crime, fantasy, espionage and thriller categories. I have a sci-fi apocalyptic/dystopian book seeking a publisher, and a pirate novel is in progress, plus a humorous illustrated book and a non-fiction book about dates…

What made you choose those genres?
I believe a writer should read widely and not stick to any particular genre. Good stories come from all genres.

How long does it take you to write a book?
A western takes about a month, while a complex crime or fantasy book will take maybe six months. I can recommend Write a Western in 30 Days which provides considerable insight into the writing process and is not solely about writing westerns.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
As I reach the end of the plot outline, the word-count per writing day increases. I don’t write exclusively for my own work, so the time has to be rationed as appropriate, to allow for paid work and private life and commitments.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Let me quote from Write a Western in 30 Days: Plots are relatively easy to think up, it seems. They must be. More than once I’ve been accosted by a would-be writer saying, ‘I’ve got this great plot for a novel. Will you write it for me?’ Well, no, thanks, I’ve got more than enough of my own to work on.

I get ideas from newspapers, magazines, research I’m doing for something else – even from letters to the editor or an agony column!
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I think I was about 12 when I started to write stories in longhand. I wrote my first novel on my Remington portable when I was about 16.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Read, watch films, swim, see family…

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
It’s a long time back now, but when I realised that my characters spoke to me even when I wasn’t at the keyboard, then I knew they were ‘real’.

How many books have you written?
Twenty-two. Nineteen published.

Which is your favourite and why?
Pain Wears No Mask because it was in the first person, written by a nun who used to be a policewoman, and several readers found it surprising to learn it wasn’t written by a woman!

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
It went in phases – cowboy (Roy Rogers), spaceman (Dan Dare), Tarzan… then James Bond entered my consciousness so I wanted to be a spy, until I read Le CarrĂ© and realised it wasn’t glamorous… Oh, I also wanted to join the navy – I did that, and stayed for over 20 years.

What are you working on now?
Blimey. To Be King, a sequel to Wings of the Overlord, a joint venture with Gordon Faulkner; a western; Catalyst, a book about a female cat-burglar; Sneeze on a Thursday, the first in a series about a PI in Los Angeles, Bradbury & Hood, a Victorian crime series and maybe the third Tana Standish psychic spy thriller, The Khyber Document – sequel to The Prague Manuscript and The Tehran Transmission, both of which are out of print and seeking a new publisher!

Nik served for over twenty years in the Royal Navy, appropriately as a Writer, then went into IT. He has sold many short stories and articles and edited several books and magazines. He now lives in Spain. In February 2011 he was hired as the editor-in-chief of the US publisher, Solstice Publishing. Blood of the Dragon Trees is Nik’s 18th book to be published – since 2007. He writes as Ross Morton, Robert Morton, and Robin Moreton, among other names.

Also, this year his books Write a Western in 30 Days and Wings of the Overlord, a fantasy quest jointly written with Gordon Faulkner, will be published.

Published books in order of publication
Death at Bethesda Falls (2007), Pain Wears No Mask (2007), The Prague Manuscript (2008), Last Chance Saloon (2008), The $300 Man (2009), The Tehran Transmission (2009), A Fistful of Legends (2009/editor), Assignment Kilimanjaro (2010), Blind Justice at Wedlock (2010), Spanish Eye (2010), A Sudden Vengeance Waits (2010), Death is Another Life (2011), When the Flowers are in Bloom (2011), Old Guns (2012), Bullets for a Ballot (2012), and Odd Shoes and Medals (2013/ghost-writer).

Twitter - @nik_morton

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Monday, 24 June 2013

Research, query, write

Sasha from Brixton needs some marketing advice, she writes: I have written several articles on technology issues, but I’m really struggling to find outlets for them. Can you help me find markets?

There are two ways to deal with market research. One is to read several copies of a magazine and then think up an idea that might be of interest to the editor - taking into account the publication's style and content. If the editor likes your idea in outline form, you would then write the article to suit the magazine.

The other way is to think of an idea and then research a magazine that might be interested in it. This is by far the harder way of doing things. However, sometimes ideas come to us and we want to write them, so we have to research for the right outlet.

What you are trying to do is to find a market for existing articles. This is almost, but not quite, impossible. The articles may well need substantial rewriting to suit the publication. You might be able to use the facts, but end up with an entirely different article at the end, depending on what the editor asks for.

This is why it is so important to query with an outline - so that you don't waste time and effort on writing an article for which you do not yet have a market.

With regards to your technology articles, you need to find magazines that appeal to you as a reader and study the tone and content, then write an outline using your facts, which you feel would catch the eye of the editor. If the editor then accepts any of the ideas, you can alter your existing articles so that they are right for the readership.

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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Getting to know ... Jane Bwye

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
At first I marketed my novel as historical fiction, with no success. Then I was advised to try contemporary fiction, because the story is set in a time within living memory, which was how I found Crooked Cat. Since then I’ve discovered sub-genres such as romance and family saga.

What made you choose that genre?
I chose no genre! I just wrote my book. The problem of categorising my work after the fact has been like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

How long does it take you to write a book?
That’s a good question. My novel took me a total of 40 years from conception to fruition (but included 28 years of inactivity while bringing up my family). The cookbook, Museum Mixtures, took about 3-4 months of actual collation and writing; and the St. Wilfrid’s Church History booklet about 4 months of research and writing.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Although I like to think I’m a fairly organised person, I have no fixed schedule. I enjoy a varied life, and plan my writing round voluntary work, games of tennis, bridge, singing, etc.etc. Some days there is no time for writing. Others, I can work for hours on end. I guess writing, for me, is a (serious) hobby and a therapy rather than a job.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
My life, work and travel experiences provide an unending source of ideas and inspiration. I love observing people, imagining what sort of lives / experiences they’ve had, what might have sparked a sudden bout of anger, or burst of tears. I am never at a loss for ideas, have numerous fragments of notes and diaries in my archives, and I only have to start writing, for a story to take on an exciting life of its own.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Is this a devious way to discover my age! I was in my late 40’s, in the late 1980’s when I wrote a Kenya Museum Society cookbook, Museum Mixtures, collecting recipes from members and prominent people, and tying them together with margin snippets of anecdotes and information pertaining to the museum environment.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I think I’ve almost answered that question above! When I’m not doing all the other things I seem to have become involved in since my family left the nest, I turn to writing. My profession is a business adviser and mentor, and I still enjoy doing that on a voluntary basis twice a week. I judge dressage 4-5 times a month, which takes me into some fabulous English country estates in the south, and keeps me in touch with horses, which are my passion.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I learned an important lesson with my first book – never again would I write a book which is controlled by a Committee! Writing Museum Mixtures was sheer delight (and it also introduced me to that amazing tool, the computer). But the editing and production were a nightmare. I’ll say no more.

How many books have you written?

Which is your favourite and why?
Breath of Africa. Writing it has been therapeutic at a difficult period of change in my life. So much of myself has gone into that book. It is my own work of art, and Crooked Cat believed enough in the book to make a valuable commitment. I hope it will turn up trumps for them. The other two were bespoke and did not require the same intensity of emotion and effort, even though I am also very proud of them.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
To travel round the world was my dream. And I did it. In my 60th year. I did once want to be a ballet dancer –but most girls of my generation had that aspiration, I think. And anyway, my thighs grew too big too quickly.

What are you working on now?
Do you call it work? A novella – the cry of a carer trapped in a no-win situation. It’s a story that must be told, and I want to get it over with quickly. Then I will tackle the sequel to BOFA. But it will require lengthy research, which means going back to Kenya, where two of my children are now living. Did I tell you my family are the most important thing in my life? Only one member lives in England, which gives me an excuse to travel.

Jane Bwye has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist for fifty years, mostly in Kenya. She has six children and seven grandchildren, scattered over three continents, so has developed a taste for travel and has “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visits.

List of Published Works
Museum Mixtures, Published by Kenya Museum Society, Nairobi
Breath of Africa, published by Crooked Cat
St. Wilfrid’s A History, published by St. Wilfrid’s Church, Eastbourne
Short Stories, articles, newspaper columns, and reviews too numerous to mention, in a variety of publications in Kenya, and in Magnet Magazine, East Sussex, from 1960 – 2008.


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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Can't find article ideas? You need to read this ...

Gitika from Birmingham sent this plea for help: I am a student on a non-fiction writing course and I have to submit articles to my tutor, but I really struggle to find things to write about. Everyone else seems to come up with topics easily, but not me. Can you help?

Searching for article ideas can seem impossible, but in truth there are always new topics to write about.

Listen to the news
The news is a constant stream of information on a variety of subjects ranging from world affairs to new technology, from celebrity gossip to climatic disasters, from fashion to religion. Next time you listen to the news, jot down any item that catches your fancy. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t knowledgeable on the subject – that’s what research is for.

Discussion groups
Join in forum debates on subjects which interest you. There is nothing like a healthy debate to get your brain cells working.  Keep paper and pen to hand. It might not be the actual subject which sparks an idea, but a word or phrase used by one of the other members.

Anniversary articles are always worth considering.
Good starting places to search:

Do bear in mind that anniversary pieces need a longer lead time than other features, so you would have to query at least six months in advance.

Search engines
Go on search engine home pages and see which subjects are currently hot. Look back through the archives and try to find a way to link the old information with the new to create a different slant. Editors love new ways of looking at existing ideas.

Read articles written by others
Read extensively on topics of interest to you. Ideas for new articles will come to you if you study with a questioning mind. Why has the author said this? Why did the interviewee say that? What will be the consequence of his or her actions? Ask yourself the famous W questions: who, what, where, why and when?

If you question what you are reading, you can get a different perspective and be able to use someone else’s ideas to spark articles of your own. Running with someone else’s idea is fine, but never copy their words, not even if you change them to hide the fact, as that is plagiarism.

Think of a topic about which you know very little (or one you have a passing knowledge of) but about which you’d like to know more. Research the subject, read all you can, and then pass that knowledge on in the form of articles – always looking to find your own way of dealing with the topic.

Why not make a list of:
           The problems you’ve encountered recently
           How did you solve them?
           What makes you angry?
           What makes you happy?
           Which TV shows do you like and why?
           Which ones drive you insane and why?
           Who do you know who has overcome adversity and how did they do it?
           Reasons to make a living will
           Reasons not to make a living will
           Who is your least favourite politician and why?
           Holiday destinations you’d love to visit – good for travel articles
           Funny things you’ve heard people say
           Odd coincidences in your life and that of others

If you do just a quarter of the things I have outlined above you’ll have enough topics to write on for the next year at least.

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