Category Archives: Writing

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been asked to be the next link in a chain of authors answering the same set of questions on their blogs and author pages. Last week was Meg Kingston’s turn and her blog can be seen here: http://megkingston.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/my-next-big-thing_2.html Meg has written many short stories as well a non-fiction book called The Monster and the Rainbow about her experiences with disability, which should be read by all for its wonderful insights. Meg has recently completed a crowd-funded Steampunk novel, Chrystal Heart is to be released on 13/03/13.

So, it’s my turn in the hot seat:

What is the working title of your book?
White Van Man – although, as book titles seem to be getting longer and quirkier, it did cross my mind to call it: The Curious Incident of the 50 shades of White Van That Drove into The Twilight Zone

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Same place as a lot of my best ideas – in the bath. Also (shameful admission) I was a white van driver for a brief period in a long and varied career and my driving skills still live up to people’s low expectations!

What genre does your book fall under?
Crime.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the first 50,000 words in November 2011 because I’d decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but it took until February 2012 to complete the first draft. Since then I have rewritten and edited it four times during the last twelve months. It is currently with a professional editor now for a final polish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a tough question as I feel comparing my work to other novelists would be presumptuous of me. It’s easier for me to say what it isn’t: it’s not a police procedural, or a serial killer novel, or a whodunit. I’ve simply taken an ordinary guy who’s led a fairly sheltered life and dropped him into a criminal world where the life-skills he has acquired up to that moment are of little use to him. I believe the writers who do this type of story well are Robert Goddard, Peter May, Chris Ewan and Dick Francis and if anyone were to mention me in the same sentence as these fine authors I would be cock-a-hoop!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since The Beatles released ‘Paperback Writer’ as it sounded like an easy job (how wrong was I?). I began writing stories in school exercise books and wish I’d kept them now. Early favourites that inspired me were Treasure Island and Kidnapped by R L Stevenson and the Biggles series by Captain W E Johns.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
As well as trying to extricate himself from gangsters, my lead character, Martin Blake, is also coping with redundancy, his wife’s infidelity, a teenage daughter, building a new business and, hardly surprising, some stress-related health problems. He could be the guy next door and I think he is someone to whom people will find it easy to relate. To follow the novel’s progress towards publication you can occasionally check my website at: www.robertdarke.com, or keep following this blog, or like my FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/RobertDarkeWriter

And we’re done, time to pass this blog-baton onto…
…anyone who wants to take this on and be The Next Big Thing!

Just let me know and I’ll update this blog with a link to you.

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Professional Editing

Today I printed off the first hard copy of my novel. It’s funny how you spot things in a hard copy that you don’t see on the screen. Even as it was printing out, I spotted the odd typo and spelling mistake that had somehow slipped through all my previous edits.

Once I’ve completed yet another edit on this hard copy, I plan to send the book to a professional editor to give it a final polish. It’s not cheap to use a professional editor and a few of my writing friends, who are considering self-publishing, wonder why I’m doing it so I’ll try and answer that here:
Every book published by mainstream publishers has been through a separate editing process performed by somebody other than the author: I don’t know of any author who feels that their book was not improved by the process – you only have to read the acknowledgements at the end of most novels to see evidence of this.

The simple truth is that I’ve invested a huge amount of my own time in this project and I want my work to be as good as it can possibly be to enable readers to get the maximum pleasure from it. I don’t regard this as an expense but as an investment in quality.

Even so, it is scary handing over something that I’ve been working on for a little over 12 months to someone else to criticise. I want them to like it but I’m paying them to pick holes in it. A speaker at the York Festival of Writing said that giving somebody honest feedback on their work is a bit like telling a mother that her newborn is ugly! So it’s fair to say I’m nervous about what they might tell me …

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Winning Feels Good (NaNoWriMo)

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging and tweeting front for the past couple of weeks because pretty much all of my writing energy has been directed towards creating 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. I achieved my goal on 24th this year 6 clear days ahead of the deadline. Last year, I was still beavering away right up to the evening of the last day.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to achieve this writing goal – it’s about so much more than just achieving a wordcount. This year, as last year, I’ve met a lot of fellow participants (NaNoers) at the local support events organised by our Municipal Liaison officer, Meg Kingston, and made lots of new writing friends. To me, their friendship and support is every bit as important as the common goal that unites us. At the end of the month we will all go our separate ways – some of us will perhaps never meet again but I’m sure, as happened last year, some new and lasting friendships will also be formed – I certainly hope so – only time will tell.

In Wales alone (a relatively small country), well over ten million words have been written so far and, at the time of writing, there are still a few days left. Probably, only a tiny proportion of these stories will ever be published but who cares. The creative energy unleashed is fantastic and a lucky few, who maybe started this project on a whim, may well go on to become best selling authors. But it’s not about getting published, it’s about forming a disciplined writing habit, finding your inner voice and ignoring (for one month only!) your inner editor. It’s like running a marathon, many drop out for a variety of reasons but for those of us who make it the achievement feels great and the camaraderie feels even better!

That’s it for now – I’m going back to my novel – I may have hit the wordcount but the novel isn’t finished yet and I aim to keep going until it is!

And here are the stats to prove it…

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The Magic Is Mostly In The Edit

Castell Coch

Remove distractions and add warmth and colour when editing

On a rare sunny day this November, I set out to capture a picture of Cardiff’s fairy-like Castell Coch (which is Welsh for Red Castle) surrounded by glorious autumn colours. Unfortunately, by the time I found my chosen location, the sun had gone behind the clouds and some of the trees looked distinctly bare! Also, although the view was beautiful, unsightly distractions like telegraph wires and lamp-posts spoiled it.

The photo on the left is ‘As Shot’ and, like some of my first drafts in fiction, it feels a bit dull and lifeless. The wonder of digital photography is that, just like fiction, with a few judicious editing adjustments, one is able to erase the distractions and tease out the richness of the colours to end up with the photo on the right. Those colours were lurking in the trees all the time: they were just hidden from view.

So if you feel the first draft of your novel, or short story, has too many distractions and lacks warmth don’t give up on it. Maybe all it needs is a few deft cuts and a tweak of colour to turn it into a masterpiece.

If you want to know more about editing first drafts then why not spend eighteen minutes in the company of my good friend and fellow writer Paul D Williams who’s done a Video Blog on this very topic.

Here’s the link: http://www.pauldwilliams.com/2012/author-vlog-day-6a/

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A Hug for Gadget Geeks

The Psion 3a

One of my first digital organisers – the Psion 3a

I know there are some writers who shun technology in favour of simple pen and paper and if you’re one of them that’s fine – but I’m most definitely in the other camp. I am an unashamed gadget geek and have been ever since throwing away my slide rule in favour of a pocket calculator. I was one of the first among my family and friends to own a Psion Organiser (pictured) and I willingly abandoned buying CDs as soon as I could download music from the Internet, my cameras are all digital, I do most of my writing on my iPad, or iPhone, and it’s all backed up in the cloud – and yes, of course I have an eReader! I tweet, I blog and I design and maintain my own websites. I love technology!

That said, some of the new technological developments I’ve read about this week leave even a technophile like me flummoxed. Apparently, television remote controls may soon disappear from our living rooms as new TVs will change channels at the wave of a hand. My first thought was ‘wow’ but then I considered some of the practicalities: Does it mean that every time a toddler runs in front of the set the channel will change? I often jump up excitedly when my football team scores a goal and would not appreciate missing the instant replay because the TV thinks I want to switch over! Also, Mrs D has a tendency to wave her hands as she talks – is she supposed to sit on them to watch TV from now on?

Then there’s the new ‘Like-A-Hug’ jacket designed by Melissa Kit Chow, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which “allow(s) us to feel the warmth, support or love that we feel when we receive hugs”. Apparently, it works through air pockets that inflate when the wearer’s mobile phone picks up a signal that a page has been liked. At first I liked the sound of this but what happens when you’re not wearing it and someone ‘likes’ your page – does it jump off the peg? Also, can people still give you a Facebook ‘poke’? It could be embarrassing if your jacket starts poking you in public!

Such a jacket would be wasted on me anyway as I only have 21 ‘likes’ so far on my new Facebook page… so, if you like this blog, then why not give me a virtual hug now by following this link to Facebook and liking my page too?

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-Darke/430009677022290

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Put Your Ears to Good Use

I’ve read several books on writing that advise reading your work out loud because ‘the ear is a better editor than the eye’. This is so true and yet it is a simple technique that many writers (including me) often overlook. I’m a member of a writers’ circle in Cardiff where people can bring their work and read it aloud and then receive praise and criticism from others. I’ve often read a piece there for the first time and stumbled over my words, quietly chiding myself for not having read it aloud at home first. It’s embarrassing not being able to finish a sentence because it’s so long you run out of breath before the end, or discovering you’ve repeated the same word three times in one paragraph.

While you may feel a bit silly reading your work out loud in the privacy of your own study, you’ll feel much more foolish if the first time you spot a mistake is when you’re reading it in front of others, especially one that could so easily have been corrected!

It’s also wonderful practice for that time when you’re invited along to a book group or a writers’ conference and asked to read a passage from your best seller!

If you live near Cardiff, South Wales and fancy reading your work to a friendly, knowledgeable and supportive group then why not give Cardiff Writers’ Circle a try?

Full details of our programme and where we meet can be found on the Cardiff Writers’ Circle website: www.cardiffwriterscircle.org

If you live elsewhere in the UK, and want to find a writers’ group near you check the National Association of Writers’ Groups website: http://www.nawg.co.uk/category/writing-groups/

If you’re reading this in another country and would like to add a link to your own writers’ group please feel free to do so in a comment.

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

November is National Novel Writing Month – a month when thousands of writers around the world unite in a common goal to produce a 50,000 word novel in a month. Some ‘serious’ writers frown upon this activity – how can one possibly produce anything ‘of value’ in such a short timescale. I admit I was also sceptical at first. My first completed novel took over 3 years to produce and I was impressed that some writers could produce a book a year. But in a month? Impossible! That was what I thought until I tried it!

This time last year I was in a very dark place. A string of family bereavements and pressure at work led me into depression and stress-related stomach problems. My writing output had dropped to zero. Being off work, I had more time on my hands than usual and I stumbled across NaNoWriMo. I’d been dismissive in previous years, but this time I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t working on anything else and I desperately needed something to focus on other than my woes. The germ of an idea came to me from an advert in the classified section of my local paper and it was something with which I was already familiar so research requirements were minimal. With just two weeks to go I had no plan or outline but, what the heck, it cost nothing but my time and I had plenty of that so I signed up.

You can participate in NaNoWriMo for free, it is a voluntary organisation supported by donations but there’s no obligation to donate and no pressure (I did donate before the end of the project but only because I wanted to show my appreciation for the support I’d received). There are no prizes other than a certificate to show you reached your target word-count (actually, there are some other donated freebies and discounts from sponsors as well). You also get tremendous support and encouragement, both on-line and locally, but no one is checking up on you, or pressuring you to complete the project – all you have to provide is the commitment to produce approximately 1700 words a day for 30 consecutive days.

So what did I personally get from it?

The joy of writing freely – without feeling the need to get it right first time (which no first draft ever is no matter how hard one tries!)

A tremendous start to my new novel – I completed the target but didn’t finish the first draft for another two months (80,000 words). I’m still editing and polishing but it’s almost finished and that’s just fine. It’s still taken less than one year to near-completion!

A new method of working that suits me well – this approach of getting it all written first and then going back and improving has really worked for me and is an approach I shall always adopt going forward. I’ve also learned that I definitely write better with a deadline!

There’s also a wonderful sense of achievement in overcoming a tough challenge – many fall by the wayside!

The discovery that I can really write anywhere and don’t need a special room, or desk, or place, or pen (I rarely use a pen these days anyway!) – I even managed a few thousand words with my iPad balanced on my lap in the passenger seat of a car travelling down the M4.

Some lasting friendships – I attended the local NaNoWriMo meetings during November run by a marvellous Municipal Liaison (ML) volunteer, Jaywalker, and made some great new writing friends with whom I naturally have a lot in common: Some of us even formed a mutually supportive group with the aim of finishing our novels and publishing them. We meet every 3 weeks and have kept each other going through the highs and lows of creating our novels.

Self confidence in my writing – as I said above, last year I found myself at an all time low. So much so that I’d stopped writing and even worse, stopped believing in myself. Participating in NaNoWriMo last year gave me back that self-belief!

So what are you waiting for? Why not sign up now and give it a go?

You’ll find all you need to know here: www.nanowrimo.org

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