Friday 21 August 2020

How to create a short sharp pitch for a work of commercial fiction

I'm a writer not a film maker and I make no claims for the quality of production, nor am I expecting any academy award nominations, but I stand by the content as a tried and tested way to create the outline for an elevator pitch, a blurb or a book taster. 

This mini presentation was shown at virtual FantastiCon 2020 and was abridged from How to be a Fantastic Writer by Danuta Reah and Penny Grubb

Saturday 8 August 2020

Some good reading for Summer 2020

At this time of year we would usually be preparing to head for Cleethorpes for the extravaganza that is Fantastic Books Publishing’s annual FantastiCon convention. The pandemic has put paid to a host of international visitors piling into an indoor venue to play games, watch demos, listen to talks, join Nerf fights, put on VR headsets and be transported to international museums, sky-high roller-coasters or out into space, try their luck in the escape rooms (there would have been more than one this year) and generally network with like-minded people … BUT …

The books that would have been launched there will be launched at virtual FantastiCon 15th and 16th August on Twitch TV

Click here for the full launch schedule.

In summary, five novels and one autobiography will be launched. Interestingly, all five of the novels have strong female protagonists. I’ve read all six books and my mini-reviews are below.

Shadeward: Expiation by Drew Wagar

LAUNCH TIME: 12pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: Drew Wagar's final Shadeward instalment 'Shadeward: Expiation'

Colin Who? by Colin Spaull


LAUNCH TIME: 2pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: Colin Spaull's autobiography 'Colin Who?'

The Reality Exchange by James Vigor


LAUNCH TIME: 4pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: James Vigor's scifi debut 'The Reality Exchange'

The Cat of Doom by Mark P Henderson


LAUNCH TIME: 12pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Mark Henderson's surreallist masterpiece 'The Cat of Doom'

The Five Feathers by Janet Blackwell


LAUNCH TIME: 2pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Janet Blackwell's fantasy sequel 'the Five Feathers'

Storm Girl by Linda Nicklin

LAUNCH TIME: 4pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Linda Nicklin's post-apocalyptic novel 'Storm Girl'

Friday 3 July 2020

An Amazing Competition – but why did some people win and others not?

The Write2Ride creative writing competition began as a small idea and it snowballed into a huge event with its Facebook posts and website taking thousands of hits, generating hundreds of entries.

Most of the entries were short stories. In terms of numbers, poems came in second with non-fiction pieces also well represented. A few dozen in all categories also fell under the sub-category of racing themed.

Entrants’ ages ranged from four to twenty-five. A total of 63 prizes were awarded to 60 winners. Multiple entries were allowed and three people walked away with more than one prize. There was a huge range of prizes many of which were visits and lessons with international stars of dressage, show-jumping, eventing and racing. Click here for the full list of winners and prizes.

So why did the winners win, or more to the point, what stopped the non-winners from taking the prizes?

The judges were Penny Grubb, Danuta Reah and John Fairley. They are all writers. They’ve all judged competitions before. Between them they have a lot of experience. So for those who didn’t win, they provide some pointers on improving your chances for next time:

Read the rules: Don’t lose out because you didn’t read the rules. If the rules tell you to put certain information in a cover email, then make sure that’s where it goes – don’t bury it at the end of your entry. If the rules tell you which formats are permissible, don’t send something different. And if there is a maximum length, don’t go over it.

Was anyone eliminated for not following the rules? The organisers were very lenient. When people didn’t provide the correct information in the correct format, they contacted them and allowed them to resubmit. Be aware that doesn’t happen in most competitions. But the judges weren’t so lenient and yes, a handful of people were eliminated because their entries were 15% or more over the maximum word count.

Fit the theme: For this competition the piece had to be ‘horsey’, that was all that was required. However, a single mention of a horse does not make a horsey theme. For example, if you wanted to enter a recipe for fruit cake, that would be fine because non-fiction entries were allowed, but you would have to make it horsey – perhaps by telling how each stage of the process made you think about different aspects of horses or riding – but it would *not* be enough to start the piece by saying, ‘I once came home from a ride and decided to make a fruit cake,’ and then to give the recipe with no other mention of horses, ponies or riding.

Was anyone eliminated for not adhering to the theme? In a handful of cases where the horse was barely visible, we considered elimination, but because there had been an attempt to bring a horse into the picture, we decided to be lenient. However, these stories lost marks and this pushed one otherwise very good entry out of the major placings.

OK, you’ve followed the rules, you’ve stuck to the theme, what else can go wrong?

There were some stories that began beautifully, but their moments of drama were squandered; they drifted away from the point and fizzled out in disappointing and often irrelevant endings. These were people who could write well, but who had not learnt to structure their writing. It was frustrating to see an excellent start crumble into a story that failed to hold together as a coherent whole. With a bit of work, these will be the winners of the future.

How about errors and typos? Could you have been eliminated for spelling mistakes? Well no, this wasn’t a spelling competition. We didn’t kick out anyone for errors of spelling, punctuation or grammar. However, if an entry is so riddled with errors that it becomes hard to understand, it isn’t going to do well.

We had a lot of ponies ‘gazing’ on grass or in meadows when it was clear they weren’t simply enjoying the view. It’s just an “r” but it changes the meaning. How about this for a puzzler? ‘I was trapped, the door was not locked.’ It’s only one letter different but ‘now’ and ‘not’ mean very different things.

Here’s a worrying one: ‘After we’d finished, we lead the ponies back.’ What are these people doing to these ponies’ backs with the lead, and surely lead isn’t safe for back treatments? The word “lead” when it rhymes with “fed” is a soft malleable and poisonous grey metal. When you want to talk about leading horses, the word is “led”.

No one was explicitly penalised for minor errors, but here’s the thing; what if two entries are competing for a prize; they are both very good but one is full of typos and the other is largely error-free? It will be the error-free story that gets the prize. It’s like two people equally well turned out vying for the tack-and-turnout prize; the one who remembered the little things (e.g. taking out their earrings) is going to win out.

It’s always worth double-checking your work, rereading your entry, getting someone else to read it through to see if they understand it the way you want it to be understood.

And what made the winning stories stand out? The six winners are being published and the judges’ comments have been published with the stories.

You can find the winning entries in each age group, along with the judges' comments in Equestrian Life

And you can find the winners of the racing-themed sections on the creative activities section of the Pony Club site.

Saturday 13 June 2020

Unwriting a children’s novel

I’ve just finished the full draft of my new crime novel, and can soon set off on the long-overdue sequel to my children’s horsey novel.

However, reaching “the end” is a long way from finished. I’ve written 8 novels (published) and have ~60 billion other completed manuscripts at the back of the cupboard, so these days even at the point where the novel is just an embryo idea, I know exactly how long the finished book will be.

This latest* was a sub-100k-word novel from the moment I saw a giant shipping container swinging from a crane. It has been a long time in the making over a turbulent couple of years. Nuances change in the course of writing a book. I don’t like to close off any routes to what might become a useful subplot or interesting twist, so the first draft gets everything wallpapered in.

The full draft was way too fat at 140k words, but at least I knew how it would end, so I went back with the editing pen and did a comprehensive slash and burn of all extraneous matter, and I took it down to exactly 99,999 words. How’s that for an accurate prediction?

Then it struck me; the sequel to the children’s novel could easily come in at 40,001 words. I have just unwritten the book that I’m about to write, and not one of those discarded words can be reused.

* Boxed In, featuring Annie Raymond, the Thompson sisters and two figures from Annie’s past that readers of the early books might remember; ex-boyfriend Mike and PC Jennifer Flanagan.

Boxed In is the latest book in the Annie Raymond series, following on from Falling into Crime, Where There’s Smoke, Buried Deep and Syrup Trap City.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Supporting #NHS Charities Together

Along with other authors, Mark P Henderson, Stuart Aken, Melodie Trudeaux, Sue Knight and John D Scotcher, I have joined an initiative to use book royalties to support NHS Charities Together during the current emergency.

The project comprises twelve books, including Cruel and Unusual PunNishments by Mark P Henderson, Blood Red Dust by Stuart Aken, Falling into Crime by Penny Grubb, Horse of a Different Colour by Melodie Trudeaux, The Boy in Winter's Grasp by John D Scotcher, Till They Dropped and Waiting for Gordo by Sue Knight.

The project was retired medic, Mark P Henderson’s idea. He told his publisher Fantastic Books Publishing that he wanted to donate the author royalties from one of his books to the NHS. Fantastic Books offered to bring other authors on board and to put some of their charity anthologies into the pot.

The anthologies chosen by Fantastic Books contain contributions from all four of these authors and also include the anthology that won the 2019 CWA Short Story Dagger.

In line with Fantastic Books Publishing’s current policy to cut down on the physical transport of goods, you are encouraged to buy ebooks.

See more detail, book previews and the full line up HERE.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Review: Red Sky by Carl Brookins

Red SkyRed Sky by Carl Brookins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast-moving tale of adventure and espionage set in and around the Virgin Islands. It has one of those slow-burn starts where you get wrapped up in the landscape and the minutiae of life aboard a yacht as married couple Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney enjoy an idyllic sailing holiday, but there’s an underlying tension because you know the peace is not going to last, and indeed it doesn’t. The trouble starts when Michael finds a considerable sum in used (and very wet) bank notes floating in the sea.

A stand-out feature of the book for me was the sailing and Virgin Islands background that was woven into the story. The descriptions were superb and pulled the reader right into the experience of sailing in the Caribbean. I know nothing about yachts but was fascinated.

If I have a criticism it was that at times the drama was unnecessarily diluted, for example by a change of viewpoint or a lack of character reaction that pulled the reader back from the action at key moments. I noticed one reviewer saying they thought some of the scenes were far-fetched and in my view that impression came directly from the fact that the drama was not always milked for maximum tension.

The story kept my interest and left a lasting impression of its amazing setting.

View all my reviews

Friday 27 March 2020

Day One: Lockdown Covid-19; echoes of New Year’s Eve

Not that we had a clue on New Year’s Eve, awaiting the dawn of 2020, that covid-19 was even a thing. No one knew at that stage, though hindsight would show it to have been around since the autumn.

On New Year’s Eve our attention had been drawn to our boiler. 

At around 11.30 pm it had given up the ghost, refusing us either heat or hot water. It was a cold night. We could see the pressure wasn’t right so we did things with valves and pipes to get things back where they should be, but nothing changed except that the night grew colder, and we realised we’d missed the Magic Midnight Moment. Not exactly ‘missed’, we’d arrived in 2020 after all, but failed to mark it.

It didn’t occur to us that the demise of one of the modern world’s handy pieces of kit at an inopportune moment might become the theme for the year.

Cue Covid-19 and Day One, Lockdown, and all our TV channels disappeared. 

Much resetting and checking of aerials, connections, wifi ... and the box gave us grudging access to just two channels.

One was some kind of beginners’ TV – the place where students go early in their career (very early, I would say) to learn how to work a camera, how to present the news, how to make a documentary. It had a certain shaky charm; the newsreader too low in the frame, who stared like a rabbit in a spotlight while he read through his lines, clearly terrified of linguistic traps; the documentaries were less fun, wobbly shots of cliffs, beach and sea that never quite gave a satisfying panorama and were too often cut through by the flapping close-up of a trousered leg.

When off-air to students, the channel turned itself over to live shopping and those stilted duets between couples who can never get the gizmo to work, and you find yourself wondering what would be the point even if they did.

The only other channel was a film channel. The first thing it gave us was a posse of cowboys riding into a crowded town street, rows of horses tethered to rails, every inch of road surface smooth and gleaming. Do they starve the horses before these shots?

An inauspicious start but in fact, when things are done, when we’re tired and want just to relax in front of the TV, we watch this film channel. We’ve become reacquainted with Dean Martin, Marilyn Munroe and Robert Mitchum.

As it turns out, a boiler can be repaired at New Year far more easily than a dodgy TV during a pandemic so we’re stuck with our single channel. Is it a problem? No, it’s really not. Gone is that checking through 120 channels in the vain hope of finding something worth watching, and we just sit down to whatever film happens to be showing.

The other night we watched Sheila Delaney’s A Taste of Honey with a very young Dora Bryan and an even younger Rita Tushingham and recalled what a stir it had created at the time. In fact, when it first emerged I was considered far too young to watch it at all. For an incredible glimpse of the 1950s meeting the 1960s: out-with-the-old (the stiff and starched young BBC reporter) and on-with-the-new (the late great Sheila Delaney) take a look at this 2-minute clip

Meanwhile, the books-to-be-read pile is going to start going down and as it does, this blog will revert to book reviews.

Stay safe!