Friday, 28 November 2008

A giant deadline, and raising a glass to JA Konrath

So here we are.

Two full days left of November, and the final stretch of the first draft of the Manx Giant to complete if I’m to hit at least one of the two deadlines I set myself back in mid-October.

When you look six weeks or so into the future and set yourself a goal, it feels like forever away. Forty-five days is a long time, but, hell, if it doesn’t go quick. The bottom line is that the first draft will be finished by bedtime on Sunday night.

The final section of the book deals with Caley’s time in America and his fame with Barnum and, as of putting the kettle on five minutes ago, I’m running through his later years, piecing sections together up until his final days in Clyde, New Jersey.

With the first draft out of the way, it will be time for edits and rewrites, plus the chance to do a bit more digging, particularly for nuggets of information from the Baraboo Circus Museum Research Centre in Wisconsin. I’ve a man on the ground in Madison who’s doing the rummaging and I’m hopeful more background on this remarkable giant can be found.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give right now for one of those time machine contraptions.


I’m glad I wasn’t trying to get published before the internet appeared. The amount of advice and information for writers that is hanging out there in the ether is mind-boggling.

Want to know how to write a good query letter? Or how to structure a synopsis to have agents fawning over you? How about the ten gripes most likely to wind up an agent or publisher and so consign your proposal package to the bin? It’s all out there.

As seasoned as I am in digging out this advice and information, I still occasionally stumble across a site that leaves me wishing I’d found it several moons ago.

I’ve visited the site of Chicago author JA Konrath a few times before, mainly for a read of his blog – A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing – as he’s a refreshingly straight-shooting kind of chap with a keen insight into the world of books.

I’ve not got round to reading any of his work yet – he’s the man behind the Lieutenant ‘Jack’ Daniels thriller series – but he’s on my list. I was over there the other day, having a snoop, when I clicked on his ‘for writers’ page and discovered an e-book called The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Book.

In a nutshell, this is all the advice he’s collated, including four years’ worth of blogging, parcelled up into a 250,000-word, 750-page PDF. And, what’s more, it’s free. Gratis. I’ve had a quick look through, read a few sections, and it’s a wonderful resource. I can’t vouch that everything contained within is bang on the money, but heck, it’s worth a look for anyone who is a newbie looking to get a novel published.

Cheers, Jack. I’ve just bumped Whiskey Sour up towards the top of my reading pile.

This week John is breaking open:

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Good writers - damn you all to hell. Particularly that Neil Gaiman bloke.

Something strange happened to me in the bookshop today. It was just shy of twelve hours ago and I’m still trying to figure out what it was all about.

I was out at lunch, looking to buy a breast pump (no, not for me) and I wandered into Waterstones for a good old browse. I do this once a week without fail, more if time permits.

I rarely buy books at the moment, because a) I’m so skint, Third World countries are offering to bail me out; and, b) I’ve entire bookcases of material at home screaming to be read.

I do the whole browsing thing for a particular reason, and it’s not because I want to check out what’s new on the market or seek out dodgy writing to make me feel better about my own efforts. (These are, of course, legitimate reasons for writers to visit book stores...)

The reason I browse is simple – I need to immerse myself in books, be surrounded by them every now and then. It’s a gentle nudge to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing – the long haul, the marathon that is the road to getting fiction published.

So, there I am, checking out the recent crime releases when I develop this strange sensation. As I look around the table, laden with thirty or so titles, the futility of what I’m trying to do hits home. I have several crime projects simmering away, and suddenly they all seem... well, pants.

Hmm. I shuffle away, trying to dismiss the peculiar feeling as some kind of wandering bad juju.

I find myself in front of the teenage shelves, checking out the many a cool title there is, reading blurbs and back covers and thinking, wow, there are some fantastically imaginative writers out there, and wishing these kind of books had been around when I was a kid.

I suddenly feel completely lost. Useless. Almost embarrassed to think I could even attempt to snag an agent or publisher. I begin to compare the plot of the young adult manuscript that I’m tantalisingly close to finishing with those on the shelves before me and it’s terrifying. I can’t believe how mundane my plot sounds, how uninspired my writing is.

Then, I make my biggest mistake. I pick up The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and read the first few pages. I want to carry on reading, but I force myself to return it to the shelf. Then I make a quick break for the exit, trying not to look like a shoplifter.

You see, I had to get out of there. Why? Because Gaiman’s writing was so beautiful that it scared the hell out of me.

I walked back to the office trying to make sense of how I’d felt. The best explanation I’ve come up with is ‘confidence’. I’ve never suffered an over abundance of confidence, but I know that I’m not a complete hack as a writer. There are times when I just know that I will eventually make the breakthrough. And then there are other occasions – and today’s was the worst I can recall – when I doubt absolutely everything.

Confidence is such a bizarre little fellow. No one knows where it appears from, or where it disappears to when it decides to kick you into touch. If only we could bottle it, for it is such a precious commodity.

Now, after writing for a couple of hours this evening and reading back through some recent pages, I feel somewhat calmer. The Graveyard Book must be purchased at some point soon, but not until my young adult effort is finished – it will lessen the damage it can do.

Gaiman, you sod. Next time, put a bloody warning on your books.


It’s been a while since the last update on the BUTA challenge – 45,000 words in 45 days, up till the end of November.

The word count is struggling – with 10 days left, I’m just over 22,000. But, in terms of completing both The Manx Giant and Quackenbush by the end of this month, things are looking better. I’m into the home stretch for the Giant, and the first draft should be done and dusted by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

That would leave four or five days to focus on Quackenbush, for which I have one major section left to complete – probably the best part of 8,000 words. There’s no chance of finishing that by November 30, but if Giant is finished and Quackenbush all but done, it would still mark a productive few weeks’ work.

And, right now, I'll settle for that.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Regrets, I've had a few

It’s a question most often posed in a late night bar with everyone present three sheets to the wind, or, introspectively, when one is depressed as hell:

If you could go back and change something in your life, would you? Or, from a slightly different perspective, if you could go back and do certain things differently, would you...?

I don’t know where the years have gone. I had great plans when I was in my teens and early twenties. Now I’m approaching thirty nine with all the grace of a bulldog chewing a wasp and forty will be on me before I know it.

When I think back over the last fifteen to twenty years, the amount of time I can actually recall as being ‘wasted time’ is frightening. Add in the wasted time that I can’t remember (otherwise known as the times I was wasted...) and the fear factor takes on biblical proportions.

In terms of writing, I’ve always been able to talk one hell of a good book, or rather the writing of a book. I started several projects in my twenties, but couldn’t see anything through, and it’s only in the last five years that I’ve quit talking and got my backside into gear.

And so, from time to time, this question keeps wheedling its way into my brain – would I have done anything different if I’d had the chance? The easy answer is, yes. Hell yes. I’d rather be in my early thirties knowing what I know now than at the wrong end of that decade.

But – I am where I am right now, and you know what? I kind of like where that is. On a personal level, other than having to regularly don a wig and false breasts to avoid the bank manager, things couldn’t be much better. As for writing, for the first time I feel that my fiction is at a point where I stand half a chance in what is a bloody hard industry to make the barest of scratches, never mind a mark.

So, do I have regrets? Lots. Would I go back and do anything about them? No, I don’t think I would. That’s not to say I don’t think about those wasted years from time to time.

But now they make me realise how important it is not to add to them.

This week John is searching for:

The Righteous Man by Sam Bourne (November choice in Litopia book club)