Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing - The Slump

The slump after you have finished a book.

I have read a lot of blogs and books about the process of writing. Mostly out of interest rather than thoughts of educating myself. I say that not because I am arrogant enough to believe I can’t be taught anything, but because I firmly believe writing is a personal process and the only way to learn is to actually write.

All of the books and blogs I have read offer great advice, none more so than Stephen King’s, “On Writing,” but what I have yet to read is someone talk about the experience of finishing a project and starting a new one.

When I finished Ritual of the Stones I was elated. It was surreal to see my book out there on Amazon and garnering favourable reviews. It spurred me on to want to write the sequel and the one after that and the one after that.

I had the bug, I knew what it took now to get published and I had learnt a lot along the way. Even better, I could not wait to get back to the characters I loved and tell their story.

I remember sitting down at my laptop feeling invigorated and ready to take on the world. I sat there and I sat there and yep, you guessed it I sat there. “This is stupid,” I said to myself. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew the voices of my characters but I could not find them in my head.

I ground out a measly 300 words and put it down to a bad day and having a bit of rust. After all, with all the proofreading, formatting and cover designs it had been two months since I had written anything except blog posts.

However, the next day was the same and the one after that. After a month, I had around 10,000 words. They were 10,000 words I knew weren’t very good and knew I would be rewriting at some stage.

I decided to adopt a different approach. Something a reviewer said stuck with me. They had read my work before and liked my humour. They wanted more humour in my books. To be honest after the grim and dark, Ritual of the Stones, I needed it too. I came up with the idea of Pewtory the Lesser Bard, a bard who would travel around Frindoth and sing about the characters in the Ritual of the Stones. It would be a great way to garner interest of my first book and introduce the characters to a wider audience as I could give the book away for free.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard would be delivered in short snappy chapters of around 1,000 words. The formula worked, I committed to writing 1,000 words a week on Pewtory and writing book two for the remainder of week.

Pretty soon, I found my rhythm again and my output was tremendous. Pewtory the Lesser Bard failed in his purpose as a short piece of fiction and morphed into a story of his own. One I am very proud of. The only headache I now had was I wanted to concentrate on just the one story. In February I made the decision to focus on Pewtory and ended up with a novel of 53,000 words. Not too shabby at all, for what was only intended to be a gimmick piece of writing.

Meanwhile book two – The Stones of Sorrow, grew into a monster of a novel. Yes, I was worried at the size but I decided to just go with the flow and maintain the output I was producing.

By the time I had finished the book I had written more words then I had ever written in a single year. I had already sorted out the cover and knew where I was going in terms of the proofreading.

The whole process was a lot smoother then the first time as I was more familiar with it. Yes there were headaches but the sense of satisfaction was there. I was getting better at this. I was learning all the time and I was sure that the next book was even better.
I sent the Stones of Sorrow off to the proofreader allowed myself two weeks off and then sat down to begin work on book three. The aspiration was to publish it one year after book two.

I sat there, I sat there and I sat there. The same thing happened again. I could not find the words again. These were characters I had spent over 370,000 words with, yet I could not write more than 300 words on them.

No problem I thought. I will just write a short story like before. Only this time the formula hasn’t worked so well. It is not writer’s block as such. It is just that I have lost my rhythm. I know it will come back, I just need to get myself mentally prepared.

As I type this, it has been two months since I penned the last word on The Stones of Sorrow. This morning, I wrote 900 words. Yesterday I managed a 1,000. This afternoon I fancy writing some more. I am not saying I have the rhythm back just yet, but it feels like it is getting there. Do you know what else I realised? The “slump” is not a slump at all. It is my recharging time. Having made the switch from writing to editing it is the time I need to flick the switch back again.

I try not to focus too much on word counts, but I do have rough goals in mind. My aim is to write a decent amount of words on this new novella before November. I will then use NaNoWriMo again to deliver a large chunk of that book and maybe even finish it.. Only time will tell if I can achieve that goal. I think I might.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The Stones of Sorrow is out!!

The title says it all really. My third book and the second in the Ballad of Frindoth trilogy has been released. I would be honoured if you checked it out.
Here is the blurb:

The whole of Frindoth is in turmoil. After the catastrophic events of the Ritual of the Stones, King Jacquard dispatches a company of his most skilled subjects into the Calipion range to seek out the Kingdom of the Glooms and so put an end to their invasion and destruction of his realm. However, as events spiral out of control King Jacquard's once firm grip on Frindoth weakens as does his grip on reality.

Meanwhile having won a surprise victory against the usurper Vashna, Prince Althalos quickly finds that there is more to leading an army than winning a battle. Outmanoeuvred and outwitted, the prince must quickly learn how to rule if he is to retain the trust and the respect the warlords now have in him.

As war engulfs Frindoth new dangers emerge from an increasingly popular religion, whose followers are fanatical in their belief and devotion to their gods. And then there is perhaps the most serious threat of all - the threat from the sea.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review - Moon Bear

Moon Bear – Gill Lewis
I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I am so pleased I did. Sometimes there is a stigma around young adult novels or even children’s novel. I have never been put off by such a thing. If the story is good and you can root for the characters then sometimes it is exactly what you are after.
The Blurb:
When twelve-year-old Tam is sent to work at a bear farm in the city, he has never felt so alone. He hates seeing the cruel way the bears are treated, but speaking up will mean losing his job. And if he can't send money home, how will his family survive? When a sick cub arrives at the farm, Tam secretly nurses it back to health and they develop an unbreakable bond. Tam swears to return his beloved cub to the wild, but how will they ever find a way to be free? Deeply moving and powerful, Moon Bear is an unforgettable story of compassion, hope, and bravery against overwhelming odds.
I loved this book. I devoured it in less than two days. I just simply could not put it down. At just over 300 pages it is on the shorter side, but it tells the story it needs to tell without drawing out any scenes unnecessarily. Gill Lewis could easily have been tempted to go for maximum empathy in describing in detail some of the horrible things that happen in this book, but she instead opts for the “less if more” mantra and it works a charm.
The book focuses on Tam, a boy who lives with his family in the mountains until they are relocated by the General Chan. Tam is promised a better life, with electricity, a school and even a village TV. The promises are half-truths though and when events go from bad to worse, Tam is forced to leave his family and work at a bear farm in the city.  
Tam is hugely likeable. He is undoubtedly a victim but he does not bemoan his fate. That does not mean he accepts it either. He is sensible enough to keep his mouth shut and head down when needed but also rebels in his own way. His friendship with the bears and the way he cares for them is truly touching.
What I liked most is that Lewis focuses on Tam’s relationship with one of the bears. Tam recognises there is little he can do for the other bears but when a young ill cub (Sook-dli) arrives, he takes it upon himself to nurse the bear back to health.  The bond the two forge is both tender and heart warming. The two souls are linked by the same lot in life in that they have had little choice or say as to what happens to them.
However, to just comment on Tam’s interactions with the bears would do the book a disservice. Everyone Tam converses with is affected by his behaviour in some way, mostly for the better but sometimes not. The only character that is not well-drawn is Tam’s supervisor Assang. He is your typical card board cut out caricature and is not really needed in the story. All the other characters are well portrayed and within a few short pages, Lewis establishes strong links between Tam and other characters such as his Granddad, his Ma and Kham.
In regards to the plot, there is nothing too surprising about it. A lot of what happens to Tam is not very original and nothing you couldn’t predict if you really sat down and thought about it. The beauty of the novel is that whilst reading the novel none of this occurred to me. I was so enthralled by the prose and swept up in Tam’s life that I was too busy enjoying the book.  I had never heard of bear milking though and it has truly opened my eyes to another of mankind’s atrocities inflicted on animals.
I said at the start of this book that this is classed as a children’s book. With all that happens to Tam it certainly does not read like one. With a children’s book (as true with a lot of adult books) the usually all of the plot points are wrapped up or loose ends tied. Gill Lewis does not pander to her audience. Sometimes in life there are loose ends and with one character in particular, she uses their actions to teach Tam this lesson. It is infuriating but realistic at the same time.
The ending is great. Normally I like dark endings, but I also recognise when a book needs to end in a certain way. I will not reveal which was this one goes, but to me it was the perfect ending.
My rating: 9.3

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review - The Corninsh Coast Murder

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (JS)
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I love murder… let me rephrase that, I love the old fashioned murder mysteries, that you get from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers etc, so when this title popped up as recommended for me as I like such and such, I could not resist.
This is the description:
Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature - himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them - a mystery.' The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside - but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. However, the vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head. The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan's niece, Ruth - but surely, that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test. 
I must admit I had not heard of this author, but within a few pages, I was hooked by the story.
The writing is descriptive, and sets the scene for the reader so you can visualise the characters in their daily lives and the dramatic Cornish coastline. A storm opens the story and this dominates all events. However, the description is not overdone and unlike in some stories, does not slow the narrative, which is good as the pace is brisk and enjoyable.
There are not loads of murders and action, just a cleverly written tale with loads of twists, turns and false leads that keep you entertained.
The character of the Reverend is excellent, I liked him a lot. I was a bit worried at the start that he might be pompous and overbearing, but he is a joy to read and gently points out to the usual police officers the error of their ways.
I suppose my only slight complaint is that some of the secondary characters are not fleshed out a lot, such as the niece, and the little you read about her, doesn’t make her very sympathetic, so you do not feel for her predicament.
The author cleverly changes the point of view between the Inspector and Reverend as well, so you can see the clues the Inspector finds and so agree that he has seemingly solved the mystery. Then however you jump to Dodd’s chapter and you realise that what you thought is completely wrong.
There are clues that let you solve the mystery, this is not one of those books where a surprise murderer appears with a motive that you had not been told about before. But the clues are cleverly hidden so when you spot them, you feel very pleased with yourself.
Whether you solve the murder yourself or just follow along with the Reverend either way I am sure that this story will be enjoyed, it’s not a long read, but definitely worthwhile.
8 out of 10