Thursday, 25 February 2016

Great YA Novel by @JeffGardiner1

I'm delighted to announce the release of a wonderful book (the first in a trilogy) by super-talented author, Jeff Gardiner. Jeff tells us about his journey to publication - the ideas and the finished product.
I’ve always been inspired by nature and am still a secret twitcher (bird spotter). The times when I most feel alive are when I’m walking in a forest, on a hillside or by a lake. But it’s important to appreciate that nature is both beautiful and dangerous.

Our relationship with nature is an odd one. On the one hand we are animals – part of nature. On the other, we humans seem to be at odds with nature – fighting against rough weather and pesky creatures that invade our homes and businesses. We cut down forests and build concrete jungles; we pollute and urbanise as if we own the place. We seem to have forgotten our place in creation; our relationship with other animals and the wonderful world that is our home. How many young people go for walks and holidays in the countryside these days?

Although world politicians are now slowly moving in the right direction, most environmental experts agree that it’s not enough. We’ve done too much damage in such a short space of time. We are killing our planet. What a strange way to behave.

Pica picks up on this idea.

Luke plays on violent computer games and hates the idea of a boring rural walk. One day a magpie taps on his window, and from then on he sees magpies everywhere he goes. A new boy, called Guy, joins his school, who is odd and is soon a victim of bullying. However, Luke is drawn to this strange boy, and as he gets to know him everything he understood about his life is turned upside down.

I wanted Pica to challenge people’s perceptions about young people and about our relationship with the natural world. Without sounding like a new-age hippy I do believe we used to have a greater knowledge of the natural world. In the past we understood things that have been lost over thousands of years. Luke begins a journey to rediscover that ancient ‘magic’.

I was also keen to make this novel – the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy. Fantasy literature allows us to use our imaginations in our understanding of reality. Luke discovers powers that many of us can only dream about, so there is also a sense of wish-fulfilment alongside the serious environmental message.

The planning and writing of Pica took about a year. The novel went through a number of revisions, with one whole sub-plot completely deleted and rewritten. I sent off the synopsis and first three chapters to a few publishers and agents that accepted unsolicited manuscripts, but received standard rejections (the ones which don’t really indicate if anyone actually read it at all).

This led to further major revisions and rewrites, when I spoke to a fellow author who suggested I send it to her agent. She paved the way for me and the agent wrote back enthusiastically, agreeing to take me on as a client, putting Pica forward immediately. It was eventually picked up by Accent Press, who agreed a three book deal for the trilogy. They have been brilliant, offering excellent editorial advice, and some wonderful opportunities. Accent YA – their young adult imprint – are being rebranded and I was told that Pica would be one of the titles they were planning to launch at The London Book Fair.

So things are very exciting. I even have a cover quote from fantasy author, Michael Moorcock, who read it and wrote, “One of the most charming fantasy novels I've read in years. An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”                      
PICA by Jeff Gardiner

Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Don't miss out! #amwriting

The short story competition, judged by Sue Moorcroft, closes on the last day of this month. So you only have a few days left to get your entries in.

Open-themed, we accept all genres, including those written by or for children. Adult material (sex and swearing) is also acceptable, providing the content fits the story and is not gratuitous.

Don't forget, we are looking for stories between 1,000 and 3,000 words, with strong characters, a well-crafted plot and realistic dialogue (where used).

Prizes: £500, £200 and £100

Entry fees: £7 for one, £12 for two, £16 for three, £20 for four

Optional critiques available.


More details can be found here: Short story category

For more information on our competition categories, visit the Flash 500 Homepage.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Does size matter? #writetip

Veronica from Marbella has a problem with her novel being too long: I’ve been told by many people (and seen it on countless websites) that publishers won’t look at debut novels that are too long. I’ve been told mine, a story set in the days of the French Resistance, should be between 70,000 and 90,000 words. I’m only about two-thirds of the way into it and it’s already over 85,000 words. What should I do? Should I cut out one of the characters? Change the plot slightly? Take out one of the subplots? Please help, because I can’t bear the thought of spending all this time writing a book and then being told it’s too long to be published.

First of all, the thing to bear in mind about word count guidelines is that is all they are – guidelines. If a stunning novel landed on an agent or publisher’s desk that they simply couldn’t put down, there is no way it would be rejected as being too long, even if it was well over the standard word count!

Secondly, you have said yourself that you haven’t even finished the book yet, so there is no way of knowing what should be cut, if anything.

A first draft is just a way of getting your thoughts and ideas down on paper. When you go through your first rewrite you will automatically cut sentences, paragraphs, maybe even entire scenes, because they don’t fit. You may find that you have two or three minor players who could be morphed into one stronger character, which again would affect the word count.

On second, third, fourth and fifth drafts, you’ll tighten dialogue, cut out all the padding and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

By the time your novel is ready to be sent anywhere, it will be a much smoother, sleeker beast than the one you are currently wrestling with. Get the words down and leave the worries about length and publishing needs until you’ve polished your baby so that it gleams. If it does that, no one will care if it’s a few thousand words more than the guidelines say it should be.

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Friday, 19 February 2016

Ailsa Abraham muses on aging disgracefully @ailsaabraham

I have a wonderful guest post today from Ailsa Abraham, whose novels are currently on special offer, so don't miss out.

Hello, Lorraine, and thanks for inviting me over. I thought I'd just have a muse about ageing today.

The warning there is real enough. I don't suppose any of us can resist giving our characters some traits that belong to people we know, or ourselves. I freely admit that the female lead in the Alchemy series, Riga, is modelled on a very much younger version of me. We can all think of male novelists who are obviously living out their fantasies through their work with heroes who can fly planes or helicopters, sail anything that floats, climb, ride horses and achieve everything perfectly. They may also be experts in various fields which would have taken two lifetime's study to gather.

This got me thinking. Suppose I were to write realistically? I would love to break into the crime genre because most of my life I have been involved with the police. No, I'm not a hardened criminal or drug baroness. My parents were both in the Metropolitan Police and met in training school where my father was mother's class captain. He eventually went on to Scotland Yard while she resigned her “wooden-top” job as a married woman. As he died when I was four, we were constantly visited by the local coppers making sure we were lacking nothing and often taking me for a ride in their police cars.
Even over here in France I managed to become an official interpreter for the gendarmes and customs. I must have “police family” in invisible ink on my forehead!

So if I were to re-cast myself as a detective would it work?! As I am a very honest person, going through the requirements of a successful character in that genre, I don't fit the bill.
Detectives are usually leaders of a team and popular with their colleagues. My Bipolar Condition would mean that I would be a big hit on some days and a pain in the proverbial when throwing hissy fits all the time on others.

Mental agility? No. Many bangs on the head have left me with enough brain damage to ensure that if I DO have a flash of inspiration, I must remember to write it down before I forget it. Chief Superintendent Abraham would need a full time PA to follow her around taking notes.
Powers of deduction? That would depend on how much distraction there was around. The same brain damage renders me incapable of thinking with more than one source of noise near me, for example, while trying to write this piece I have the TV on beside me and my Old Feller trying to talk. Cannot concentrate on any of them.

Instant availability? No, I can't just dash off to another country or district at the drop of a hat. It's the dog and cat, you see? They have never been away from us in their lives and it would kill me to put them in kennels. Jumping on planes to the States is out of the question.

Chasing baddies across roofs or jumping from boat to boat in a harbour? Come off it! Nearing my old age pension and recovering from various accidents and illnesses, I can hardly move some days. I don't think using Texas Ranger, my Walker would look too good in a pursuit scene.
I'd suggest that I might be an armchair old lady detective but Miss Marple has already been done... Miss Marple on a motorbike with a penchant for dressing up as a pirate? What do you think?

Bio and links
Ailsa Abraham writes under two names and is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes gay male romance under her brother's name, Cameron Lawton.

She has lived in France for over twenty years and enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family. She runs an orphanage for homeless teddy bears and contributes a lot of work to Knit for Africa. She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care.

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Monday, 15 February 2016

Help! I'm Blocked #writetip

One of my regular readers is suffering from something many writers have faced. He writes: I have a problem and I need some advice. I have a crippling writer's block that I can't get rid of. I have some ideas but when it comes to writing the story, nothing. What should I do? Would enrolling in a writing course help in any way?

Enrolling in a writing course might well be the answer to your problem, but I doubt it. If you have ideas already, but can’t bring yourself to write them, being on a course might add to your woes, rather than easing them.

There are as many reasons for writer’s block occurring as there are suggested ways of dealing with it. As I don’t know you on a personal level, I will have to put forward several things for you to try. I hope one or more of the following will do the trick for you.

Have a set time to write
Whether it’s first thing in the morning, an hour when you get home from work, half an hour during your lunch break, set aside the same time every day. It doesn’t matter what you write. The important thing here is to train your mind to accept that this part of the day is writing time.

Another trick under this heading is changing the time you’ve set aside to write. If you have already made the decision that mornings are your writing time, but it no longer works for you, change the time. Write in the evening instead.

Relax and stop looking for perfection
Don’t read what you’ve written so far. Just get on with the next bit. Turn off your internal editor. Many people stop writing because they cannot produce perfect prose in a first draft. Nobody can! Don’t allow the fear of imperfection to get between you and your writing. There will always be time to polish that imperfect prose. Get it written and edit it later – much later!

Don’t write
Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but maybe your brain needs time to formulate the ideas properly before you settle down to write. You might have so many ideas in your head that you aren’t able to decide which one you want to develop. Go for a walk. Take a train journey. Spend an evening with friends. Forget about writing for a while. You’ll come back to it refreshed and raring to go.

Read more
Reading helps the creative juices to flow. I find reading in a different genre to the one I write in is beneficial, but you might find you get better results if you read material similar to that you want to write.

Set deadlines with a writing buddy
Find a friend, online or in real life, who also wants to get back into writing on a regular basis. This works well if you lay out some ground rules first. Decide how many words per day, week or month you will each write. Then set deadlines for exchange of material. It’s a bit like running with a friend, or going to the gym. It’s easy to backslide when you’re on your own, but much harder to drop out if you’ve committed yourself to a word count and deadline with someone else.

Work on more than one book, story, article or poem at a time
This doesn’t work for everyone, but some writers find it easier to switch between works, depending on what moves them for that day.

Writing exercises
I’ll be honest, writing exercises for the sake of it isn’t something that would work for me, but I have been told that many writers swear by it as a way to overcome writer’s block.

However, there is one thing that I do, which could be considered a writing exercise. Try interviewing the characters you want to write about. Put together a series of questions and then write up the answers as if you were the character. I find characters come to life if I allow them to answer for themselves. Believe me, once that happens, your characters will live in your head, nagging nonstop until you write their story.

Make sure your writing space works for you
Is your desk covered in scraps of paper? Do you feel hemmed in and uncomfortable? If your work area doesn’t make you feel creative, it will stifle the urge to write. Spend a bit of time making your writing area somewhere you want to be.

Remember that writing is fun!
This is the biggie, for me. Most of us write for pleasure. It’s fun. We create worlds and people to populate those worlds. Then we make life difficult for them so that they have to overcome obstacles in order to succeed in whatever we have decided they should do. We have the power to make them fall in love, fall out of love, go to war, lose a battle, find a friend, betray a colleague, become a saint, sup with the devil, rise like a star, fall into despair. How can we not enjoy ourselves?

Let go of your inhibitions – write and have some fun.

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