I'm a fiction writer & editor

Merry Christmas lovelies

So here’s what I’ve got for you. Something for your stocking and something for under the tree.

Your stocking filler. Now, i thought long and hard about this. It had to be something small enough to fit in your stocking … so i found the perfect thing. A competition piece of sci-fi flash fiction under 99 words I wrote a while back – called “A few new seconds of me”. Gobble it up and then run on on to get to your main ‘under the tree’ pressie.


A few new seconds of me

I adjust my settings and go short and blonde. Add a tattoo of a sparrow on my face. Up a dress size, down a shoe size and make the tits too big for doorways.

Out I squeeze.

‘Nice look Kat!’ I-forget-her-name changes, mimicking my new style.

As I stroll the street, other morons copy me too until there are hundreds, until I am in a sea of me. Each step down the street bludgeons my art and I get ahead to thinking: what must I be tomorrow to enjoy a few new seconds of me?



So what’s under the tree?


Well, in that sci-fi future there probably wouldn’t be anything to unwrap under the tree- it’d all be digital upgrades and the like. Your main present is digital too, (see that seamless link?) – so you’ll have to just imagine unwrapping it. Sorry i do tend to use too much tape. Got it? okay, y-eah, nearly. Use your nails. There you go. 

Now you’ve already probably got my first book Orca Rising (if not, here you go), so how about a choice of some other great free books? Orca Rising is part of a 20+ group book giveaway this xmas, and you can get any of them you like! There’s fantasy, teen fiction, vampire stuff; whatever you like. Here’s the link if you want to browse some free books

Right, before I go and hit the mince pies…i wrote to my followers a few weeks ago about how my writing research took me to a martial arts taster session so i could write fight scenes convincingly.  You can read about it here if you like: http://bit.ly/WritingResearchWentaBitFar  

I said i’d let you know how i got on. Well… i only bloody passed didn’t i?



Until next time friends

Domo arigato, 

Chris here, and i’m pretty nervous today. I’ll tell you why in a min.  First, some context: I write teen spy thrillers, and to do that you need to be able to write action convincingly.


Now, back to the nervous bit. When writing the follow up book to Orca Rising about a year ago, the main character–freelance spy Ocean Daley– needed to go deep into a martial art. Now, I’m not the sort of guy people look at and think, yeah, that guy, he’s a martial arts badass and probably knows his stuff. I’m the sort of guy who looks like he knows NOTHING about martial arts. I look more like someone a librarian might keep around just to help customers reach books from the top shelves. I’m 6ft 4 (1.96m). Skinny. I played basketball at university and tennis since and about martial arts? I knew nothing, Jon Snow.

Locally there was an Aikido dojo offering two free taster sessions. Perfect! Wait? What’s AIkido? Aikido is a defensive Japanese martial art that involves weapons (a staff, sword, or knife – all wooden!) and body techniques. I was surprised by how it flowed, how much fun it was and how friendly the people were.

A year later, and i’m still going every week. Tonight i’m being examined for my first two belts (6th kyu and 5th kyu) i’ll be encircled by Black belts watching me demonstrate my sword work, staff suburis and using techniques to neutralise an attacker to the tatami.

I’m nervous and excited. Pass or fail, I wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for writing. Funny where it takes you. I still look like the skinny librarian guy though. 

I’ll let you know how i get on next time

Chris

P.S If you’ve not had a chance to get started with the Orca series with book 1, you can download for free here on this link 

Hey everyone,

Really excited to announce that the follow up book to Orca Rising–you remember? That teen spy thriller shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize!– is ready for publication!

Orca Rogue Agent will be released on 30th November – more details to follow about pre-order and the cover reveal – so stay tuned.

Chris

There’s a scene in the film I Heart Huckabees where Mark Whalberg’s character, (a secondary character) is about to be introduced to viewers. Two things happen in sequence to introduce him. We’re currently absorbed in a different scene with the main protagonist and his drama with two other people. A phone rings and we hear Mark W’s voice, ‘…got a serious situation happening over here…’ the scene is broken up and we cut to…

Introduce your character’s with their own individual drama
Photo by Daniel Tausis on Unsplash

Mark standing on the lawn of his house as his fire crew buddies apologetically help his wife move out of home with his child. Mark W is berating them all with nihilistic ideas. A sub-plot is introduced, a new character is introduced and right now, it has nothing to do with the main drama in the book as experienced by the protagonist.

Introducing new characters in this way is a great way of bringing verisimilitude to your fictional world. Your protagonist isn’t operating in a vacuum, other people exist with their own feelings, issues and dramas. Next time you watch a new TV show, movie or new book, keep an awareness for how a new character enters the story and you’ll notice it happens a lot AND that it’s good!

Happy writing

CH

One of my favourite quotes about dialogue is that it is two monologues clashing. It really gets across the idea that there are things said and unsaid which tell us competing wants and frustrations from two (or more) different characters at the same time. I don’t think that this quote applies to every piece of dialogue though and today i want to talk a little about the hidden nature of the relationships behind the people speaking and how as writers we can adapt our dialogue to reflect the changing nature of those relationships. Let’s get to it.

Dominance!
Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Two people are talking. Let’s say the nature of their relationship falls into one of three camps; Communality, Reciprocity and Dominance (This comes from a Stephen Pinker talk: will share link at end).

Communality – a relationship based on kinship and mutualism, dialogue and action will be engendered by what is ‘acceptable amongst friends’.

Reciprocity – a tit for tat relationship. How a diner may talk with a waiter for example.

Dominance – characterised by an understood power imbalance, for example between a boss and a worker.

Reciprocity
Photo by noodle kimm on Unsplash

When relationships fall neatly in these categories, the dialogue will follow quite predictable patterns in their nature. Friends will teach other more or less as equals, a buyer and a seller will haggle over a price, and a boss will tell his workers to get back to work! From a writer’s point of view, it gets interesting when there is movement between these categories. For example: there’s a great moment (so many!) in the comedy I’m Alan Partridge where bored former TV presenter Alan is feeling rather lonely and walks to the petrol station to buy a chocolate bar. He engages in some small talk for a little too long, then, as he prepares to leave, casually asks if the attendant wants to go out for a drink? It’s awkward, Alan is refused and hiding his embarrassment, leaves. What’s happening here is there is an established relationship of reciprocity: the attendant at the station and Alan, the customer. It’s a tit for tat exchange. Pleasantries about the weather are fine, but when Alan asks the attendant if he wants to go out for a drink, he crosses a line and we understand how lonely Alan really is deep down (even though it is a comedy!).

When you don’t know whether to call someone sir or by their first name it’s a sign you are caught in the fuzzy line between a dominance and a communality relationship. When the person pulled over for speeding offers a bribe, we’re moving from dominance to reciprocity. The thing I notice is that when a relationship changes from one characterisation to another, something interesting is happening – and that is what we are striving for!

Communality
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Understanding the hidden nature of relationships between your characters can help unlock some magical moments in your writing. I highly recommend checking out this short Steven Pinker talk where he goes into a lot more detail about why we use the language we do and why, particularly the way we use indirect speech to protect ourselves from mutual knowledge. Plausible deniability can help maintain the fiction of many a relationship! https://www.trendhunter.com/keynote/steven-pinker

Happy writing

CH

Minor characters people your novel and give your main characters’ world verisimilitude. Die to their ‘minor’ standing it is easy to bung these characters into your story. After all, we certainly don’t want them to upstage your main character(s) or distract from their plight. However, you will find opportunities to make your minor characters more life like without compromising your main story and it will add solidity to your fictional world.

What is a minor character?

‘Minor’ should be the amount of importance associated with this character for both you and the reader. A good indicator that a character is minor is that they are not named. It may be a waitress, a gas pump attendant or a mother pushing a pram down the street. The mother may serve just to remind our protagonist for the gazillionth time that she can”t be a mother herself. The point is, they are in your story, so they must serve some small purpose.

How to make your minor characters more rounded

The key here is some minor specificity. It may be something visual your PoV character has noticed about this minor character, it may be some verbal or behavioural tic they have, or perhaps even some backstory that your narrator or protagonist vaguely knows about this person. Some examples:

“The mechanic rubbed the back of his head with the rubber end of his pencil as he read the clipboard. There was an RIP tattoo on his forearm of a name written in a gothic font too hard to read.”

“He looked too fresh-faced and young to be a dealer, his eyes too wide and naive and his frame way too skinny. “

“Her index finger was clipped near down to the knuckle some unpleasantness that occurred in the winners enclosure at Ascot in the early nineties.”

This (hilarious) one is from DFW’s Infinite Jest “… Indiana, where his Ma was a latestage Valium addict and his exsoybeanfarmer Pa, blinded in the infamous hailstorms of B.S. ’94, now spent all day every day …”

The key here is specificity. Let your character stand out for a second before they blend back into the background of your world.

Happy writing

CH

Alright, hands up, slight ulterior motive to this intro. My book Orca Rising is up for the People’s Book Prize and has made the final few – thanks to the good folks at Thistle Publishing for sticking my name in the hat! It’s a prize voted for entirely by the public. If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog and want to give something back then help me out in April by voting for my book here It only takes two secs and you’ll get good vibes in return that last muuuuch longer 🙂

Brown Wooden Floating Shelves Mounted on Beige Painted Wall

I’ll keep the rest of this short and sweet and get to the links for some amazing opportunities to showcase your writing. Applying for prizes, be they short story awards, flash fiction or longer form awards they act as a really good way to get exposure as a writer to agents and publishers. More than that, they can often be a target or deadline and provide much needed motivation to finish your work. Here are some of my favourite sources for finding out about what prizes and competitions are out there. This is by no means exhaustive and if you know of any other good ones then go ahead and post them in the comments for everyone!

Sources to follow for Writing competitions

I love New Writing South (there are other regional partners wherever you are in UK) they are a great organisation and regularly post competitions and opportunities on their website or mail shot. Check them out here: https://newwritingsouth.com/

Check out this excellent blog from JesDavidson for a well thought out list of writing comps and their respective fees. https://jesdavidson.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/novel-writing-competition-list/

The Big List of UK Writing Competitions

Some of my writer friends have had success with Mslexia, note that it is female authors only. https://mslexia.co.uk/writing-competitions/

https://thewritelife.com/writing-contests/ are good at listing prizes with cash prizes and some good advice about avoiding scams.

https://www.ukwriterscollege.co.uk/Resources/Writing+Competitions+and+Events.html

Writing Competitions Event Calendar in 2020

https://intercompetition.com/writing.html

This is the one Orca Rising is up for: https://peoplesbookprize.com/

Check out Sharpe Books for their unpublished novel award too @sharpebooks on twitter

I also recommend following author Paul McVeigh on twitter, he seems like a great guy and often posts comps and opportunities. His handle is: @paul_mc-veigh

Peoples Book Prize Finalist

Vote here

Suspense is one of the most important things to infuse in your writing. It’s not just for crime thrillers, all genres need to have an element of suspense to keep your reader intrigued.

Pass me the onions dear.

So for a writer, what is suspense? Put simply, it’s raising a question in the reader’s mind and then delaying the answer. 

Let’s look today at just one technique for how you can create this delay in your writing; the cutaway.

The cutaway

First, you must reach a moment of tension, of some conflict. Will he kiss her or turn away? Noticing in the rearview mirror that you are being followed? On the news she sees her best friend on a ledge of a tall building, looking down and runs for the door. Whatever it is, you’ve come to a critical moment of tension that you would be a waste to resolve instantly. So how to delay? With the cutaway all you need to do is literally cut away from the scene and place the reader in a different scene (though there is an implicit promise you must conclude the moment of tension later). Here are some examples;

Cutaway to some backstory: In Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach this is done very subtly. Two newlyweds face each other over a meal, unsure of what to say to one another, they both declare their love for one another in a rather unconvincing fashion… then what next? McEwan then puts in a line break and begins some backstory on one of the characters, taking us away from the awkward moment.

Cutaway to a different Point of View: If you have multiple Point of Views, then you can leave your moment of tension by moving to a different character. This is fairly common and you’ll notice it happens typically at the end of the chapter with a cliffhanger.

Cutaway to the next chronological scene : This is a subtle one. You don’t show or reveal what happened but move the story onto the next scene and let the reader work out what happened through direct action. A fantastic example of this is in the film No Country for Old Men, serial killer Anton Sigur has viscerally murdered a lot of people in the film already, we’ve seen him strangle, shoot and even use a pressure canister type thing to murder with impunity. Towards the end of the movie, he tracks down the wife of the man he’s been chasing, who he’s sworn he will kill. He offers her a 50-50 chance, the flip of a coin to determine if she lives or dies but she refuses to put it down to chance, appealing to his human side. The coin doesn’t decide, she says, you do! Sigur however is a fatalist to the core and insists if she doesn’t choose, he will kill her. Then we cutaway and the magic cinematic moment happens. Rather than show us a murder or him deciding to let we cutaway to a shot of the outside of the house. There’s nothing for a few agonising seconds, then Sigur pushes open the screen door and steps out onto the veranda. Has he killed her or not? At this point we don’t know and are in the middle of the DELAY. Then (and this is the bit i really love), Sigur leans on a support post and checks the underside of each shoe, one after the other (checking for blood we presume). In this example the delay is a short one before resolving the mystery, but it’s so beautifully done it has to be mentioned!

So there you have three examples of cutaway techniques! If you’re a keen reader then read on as I call out a few examples of books where suspense is done really well and why. If you know any moments yourself them post below, i’d love to hear them!

One book which I found to be a masterclass on suspense (maybe even too much suspense?) is Before I go to sleep – which also was made into a film (not seen it though!). Set up is this: PoV amnesiac protagonist, starting each day not knowing who she is keeps a diary to help her piece together who she is at the start of each day. Then she realises someone is tampering with the diary. Can she trust it? She finds a message to herself telling her not to trust her husband. What’s going on? The entire book is made up of brilliant suspenseful moments which act as the engine to keep you reading. I’m a big fan too of subtler moments of suspense such as the incredibly talented Elena Ferrante and her Neopolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend being the first). SPOLIER ALERT. Lina Cerullo, a bride on her wedding day, notices a pair of cherished shoes (that she had designed) on the feet of her sworn enemy Marcello Solara whom she had forbidden to attend the wedding. The shoes were a gift from her to her new husband and an emblem of their relationship and love. Seeing them gifted thoughtlessly by her husband to her sworn enemy is a fantastic moment and the possible repercussions fill the readers mind which we wait for Lina’s reaction. Then we get the ultimate cutaway, the book ends and we experience the ulitmate delay until we read the next book.

Happy writing

CH

So you’ve finished your novel. Whatever happens now, take a breath because you’ve done something truly amazing! The hard work and effort that goes into it, only you truly fathom (but other writers will have a pretty good idea)! Do something to mark the moment, I love to go out for a meal with my wife and son. We aren’t celebrating exactly, more acknowledging a milestone. A first draft is definitely an achievement, but if you think 80% of the work is done then you’re in for a shock.

Picture this: you’re running a 10k race, you train for it, build yourself up mentally for the distance. You feel ready and are in good condition to run a good time. On race day, you’ve run 9km, it’s gone well, you’re tiring but that’s okay, you have only 1km to go and you’re positive you can do it. Then you realise it’s not a 10km run, but a full marathon of 24+ miles.

For a lot of people, that’s what they find out when they finish a first draft. A bit of tinkering around the edges and some light editing and it’ll be good to go right? Sorry! That’s the 9km point right there, and a marathon awaits. I think of the first draft as a third of the work done. The second third is editing and redrafting. And third, promotion and publication time.

Drafting and re-drafting : During my Masters we learned about the number of drafts done by bestselling author Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth), to paraphrase; expect to write the thing two or three times over at least. So if you’re novel is over 100k words you might end up writing 200k-400k words before finding the 100k that make the final version. I experienced this a little with Orca Rising, i rewrote the final third of the book maybe four of five times (complete rewrites), not to mention the redrafts in the rest of the novel. Feedback from your agent or publisher is invaluable here, my agent was great at getting to the heart of what needed to change succinctly and why. Yes, its a lot of work, but also a lot of fun! If you expect to do it, then it doesn’t feel like a chore, I now look forward to redrafting as much as the creative process of coming up with a first draft.

Publication time: If you self publish, as i did with my first novel Perry Scrimshaw’s Rite of Passage, then this is even more work; you need to proof, do the formatting, design or arrange for a suitable front cover and organise all of your promotional activities. You can pay for people to do this for you, it depends on your financial situation. I actually enjoyed doing this myself, it was really exciting to have total end-to-end creative control. If you’re lucky enough to have a publishing house behind you (as I did with Orca Rising), you benefit from their experience and contacts. The work you can put in here is totally up to you, whether you do blog tours, radio shows, book signings, workshops, school visits, contacting local press, entering competitions, sending out copies to get reviews, organising ads on platforms like Goodreads, Facebook, Kindle etc. There’s so much you can do, and I am certainly no expert here, but I have tried all of those things and the only absolute about them is that they take time, effort and in some cases money. If you’re mentally prepared for these things then you are more likely to meet the challenges they bring with success.

So that’s today’s writing hack; go in with your eyes open, be prepared and be positive; your first draft is a massive achievement, it proves you’ve got what it takes to go all the way, however long the way may be!

Happy writing, editing and publicising

CH