My New Writing Year – 2021

What could be better than a new year and a new start?

I’m aiming for four new starts and they are on an equal footing as I get underway. Let’s see what the line-up offers. The first is a collection of short stories, for which I have writing prompts as my inspiration. The second is a vigilante who is the new face of summary justice in a world that my readers know well. The third is a spinoff to tell an unusual single character’s story. The fourth may not have any background material, but he’s as real to me as the next person who walks down the street.

Next Steps is an invitation anthology of short stories. For this collection, I requested any authors in the Indie Author Support and Discussion group (IASD) to supply me with a writing prompt. The prompt was to be a dialogue between no more than two characters and to be no more than thirty words. I will write six short stories (attributing the prompts appropriately). The authors themselves will submit one or more short stories, and their website links for inclusion in the anthology.

Codename: Foxglove is a crime thriller sequel to Codename: Nightshade. It means, of course, that Rachel Donoghue will be back on the scene. This story will see the development of Dominique McEwan (Foxglove) who was introduced in Nightshade’s story. Members of the original Beyond The Law team will make appearances, and so too will secondary characters from the Nightshade tale.

Sylvia: Beyond the Apocalypse is a spinoff from Light at The End, my popular, zombie-free, post-apocalypse trilogy. When my foray into a refreshed world captured the imagination of readers and produced good reviews, I knew I’d have to tell this character’s story. 

 

Crusader is a crime thriller. The inspiration for the main character and the story came from one of the tales in my latest anthology, Shadow: and other stories. I like Jason already and I have written the first chapter. The lead character will no doubt have a few ideas too.

Is there anything else on the cards?

I’ll be reading regularly, just as all authors should, and I’ll be reviewing. I expect to be beta reading for members of the IASD.

Does Katya Cumming have any new titles being uncovered in 2021?

Yes, a story was started early last year but due to being written piece-meal in the background, it became unwieldy. When the final draft is completed it will be broken at a logical point and published as a two-part tale.

If you’d like to see how my three new novels are shaping up, the first chapter is available for each on the WIP menu.

And now, without further ado, let’s get this literary year underway.

Tom

My Writing Year – 2020

Intended publications were two novels and an anthology of short stories which were all underway, plus another anthology which was either going to happen or not, depending on submissions from fellow authors.

How did the year work out with my target?

 

Light at The End written during 2019, kicked off my writing year and by the time I’d read a couple of reviews I was glad I’d made plenty of notes. My experimental post-apocalyptic tale spawned a sequel. I had other projects on the go so I continued, as usual, spending a couple of weeks on any one book. The first part of Light at The End was out in January, so it took a few months for the sequel to appear. I was so caught up in that particular ongoing story that I was compelled to make it a trilogy. My post-apocalyptic world deserved my writing time.

I wasn’t too concerned that I might leave other projects behind while I worked on novels. Due to the rest periods that I give my manuscripts between edits, it allows for time to be invested elsewhere.

Top of my pile, of course, was Czech Mate, a standalone espionage thriller which had already been through the wringer with beta readers over a year before. I got as far as ten chapters using first-person POV, but it wasn’t working for me, and neither were some of the scenes. I changed direction with it a few times and then one day it started to gel when I added two new characters. Okay, it still took several full drafts to get it where I wanted it to be, but that’s part of our job as authors.

Time after Time was another new venture, an ‘invitation’ anthology. I had six original stories lined up and I was hoping for at least six from other authors, all on the theme of ‘Time’. I was delighted to publish with submissions from nine other authors—one of which was the foreword. Nineteen stories all told … .

My other collection was my latest individual effort, Shadow: and other stories. Story titles changed, the book title changed and so too did the cover. Twelve original tales for those who like a coffee-time or bedtime read. (No erotica–it’s catered for elsewhere).

Surely I had time to produce more than those?

You’re quite right—I did, and on some of those days when I needed to escape from the intensity of a post-apocalyptic world, a thriller or short stories, I offered my services to Katya–the ‘character’ I created to continue writing erotica in the background. Katya’s latest venture is a two-part novel called Secrets.

You might wonder how the ‘Katya’ stories have been produced so regularly. Many have been in my files for years as failed short stories or as multiple passages which until recent years didn’t inspire me to continue. If truth be told, when I set out into the world of creative writing I never envisaged myself producing erotica.

As usual, I enjoyed plenty of reading. Mainly it was indie books, but I also read a few paperbacks and reviewed those books which warranted good feedback. By the same token, I started but didn’t finish something in the region of ten indie books. There were a variety of reasons but for the main part, it was poor writing, poor formatting and lack of time spent by the author producing the work. I don’t permit time to read shoddy workmanship when I personally put in so much effort to create worthwhile stories.

I performed beta reading for several authors and as always was gratified to be told that I’d helped. I know what it means to be offered ‘guidance’. Feedback is the lifeblood of the author. Negative feedback is as important as positive feedback which I believe all writers must appreciate. Any writer who doesn’t pay attention to negative comments in the process is blind to their own issues.

Apart from reading and writing did I do anything else to improve my catalogue?

Yes, I redesigned several of my covers. I went on to produce my personal design for those which had previously been created by a professional. Those were Ten Days in Panama, Amsterdam Calling, A Taste of Honey, and the BTL trilogy.

Apart from all of the above, in October I cast aside my professionally-designed author website which I’d kept going for about ten years. I built a new website myself from scratch. Ironically, the total cost of my new website equated to about the same as my first one. I kept my domain name www.tombensonauthor.com

My writing was my priority throughout the year, as it should be but I gained a sense of accomplishment having dealt with all my covers and creating a new website.

Next year’s targets will be in my next blog post … in January 2021.

 Thank you.

Tom 

Shadow: and other stories – now available

In this anthology of twelve original stories, I’ve aimed to create a healthy mix, not only in genre but in length and theme.

Our real-world is offering more challenges than usual and causing many people to accept the option of reading to relax. I hope the escapism provided here goes some way to relieve the pressure.

This collection includes espionage, crime, mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, karma, humour and more besides. There is no erotica because I have two websites dedicated to the genre.

1.  Shadow

2.  No Pain, No Gain

3. First Degree Murder

4. Swan Songs

5. His Final Case

6. The Other Woman

7. Resettlement

8. Around the Bend

9. Recycling

10. Pete Glistor

11. Good Cop, Bad Cop

12. He is Always Listening

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As with all of my titles, this one is available free

on Kindle Unlimited.

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Czech Mate – now available

Occasionally, when an author finds inspiration for a new story, a few notes are made, ideas become words and they quickly build into sentences. A fictional world is created, characters are born, and then problems are introduced by the author.

In the case of Czech Mate, the problems were in the real world. I visited Prague in September 2017 and within hours I had an idea and was making notes. I arrived back in the UK after my holiday and the new story was allotted time among other projects. It was about four months later when I shelved the unfinished manuscript, written in the first-person point of view.

My ‘Czech Mate’ idea didn’t have sufficient intrigue and would need time to develop in my head. Fortunately, I maintain two or more Work in Progress (WIP), so I was content to move on to something else. Although this book wasn’t getting much attention I was producing other stories so my output wasn’t an issue.

In November 2018, Czech Mate was put on hold again, having been reworked in third-person point of view. Throughout 2019 I pulled the manuscript out and wrote brief passages to build on my initial idea. It was early in 2020 before I had my Eureka moment. The basic plot remained the same but the detail of the story took on a life of its own with the introduction of two fresh characters.

How many drafts? I hear someone ask.

My response—how good are you with a scientific calculator?

The story is out there now and waiting to entertain you.

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Dark to Light – available

Yes, Dark to Light is out there now. The third book in the Light at The End trilogy is available to the masses.

In the first book, Light at The End, we are introduced to a coach with tourists being caught at short notice by a world gone mad. Leaders have taken their national and social media threats and claims to the extreme and toys are thrown out of the various international prams.

Light to Dark is the second part of the story and looks at those same tourists six years after their initial dash for safety. We see how they’ve not only survived, but progressed in their new life. They can’t assess the outside environment unless they investigate it—and they do. 

Dark to Light opens with a handful of the original group arriving at their latest objective. For a week they’ve put themselves out there. They’ve left the safety of the mountain to explore the wider world, smaller as it may now be.

 

I believe that in this third part I’ve brought the tale to what readers will find is an acceptable and fulfilling conclusion.

How many people will be happy to buy into the idea of a post-apocalypse story which has no zombies?

 

Time will tell, and the reviews, if any, will tell their own story. I’ll find out if my investment of time and my efforts were worthwhile. If the feedback is positive then I’ll feel justified in charging on with a spinoff story, but I’m not going to get ahead of myself and write it—yet.

Of course, there is no harm in having an idea in mind, just in case …

Please read responsibly.

Tom

Sex … In or Out?

You’ve written a great story. Do you need sex amidst the guns, fighting and mayhem, the psychological trauma and mystery, or the tenderness and promises?

When I say ‘do you need sex’ I’m obviously referring to the requirements of the story—not your personal urges. I digress … .

This blog post was born from the need to offer my opinion on a regular comment I see on social media, and if we’re all honest, it’s getting a bit tedious. The comment usually follows similar lines to: ‘… and when I reach a sex scene I move on …’

There is usually a bit more to it, but in essence, we have two main areas to address.

Question 1 – Is the reader a prude, or simply someone who knows when a sex scene could have been done more tastefully—if it were needed at all?

Question 2 – Did the author make a mistake by getting carried away, drifting from the primary genre, thus adversely affecting the plot of the story?

The answer to Question 1 is not as simple as it sounds. For some readers, if an author goes beyond: ‘… she stood with her back to the door and raised an eyebrow …’ it’s too much. For others, it’s frustratingly brief, and they want to at least know if one person is wearing matching underwear and if the other person is wearing underwear at all.

Now, Question 2 throws up a whole new dilemma. As authors, it is not simply a personal choice, but in my (humble) opinion, it is our duty to remain true to our craft. No, I’m not getting high and mighty because I’ve written more than two books—I’m simply telling it like it is. The reputation of indie authors is being destroyed from within by some people with low standards. Those of us who work long hard hours and go beyond the first draft must persevere to produce the best we can.

You cannot refer to yourself in your branding or promotional material (of whatever level) as a thriller writer if you have the main character kill someone and then for the rest of the book he/she beds every other person in the ‘adventure’. You can dress it up, or undress it if you wish, but one of the aims of any author should be to focus on the job—in this case, a good story based on the primary genre.

I write a wide variety of genre and among them is erotica. I may allow a kiss or a caress—even partial undressing in some stories but graphic, no-holds-barred sexual activity is kept for my erotica.

If an author writes thrillers, westerns, sci-fi or other genres there ought to be sufficient time invested in character development, dialogue, imagery, pace and the accurate choreography of action. Any mention of sex will usually be incidental, except, of course, for romance, some paranormal and fantasy where it may go further.

An author who writes erotica is not out to shock—they are aiming to indulge their readers in the type of material they sought. This is not to say that character development and those other ingredients I mentioned earlier are not required in erotica—they are just as important. The erotica author must avoid sex becoming the ‘story’; an opportunity to be self-indulgent with repetitive and meaningless scenes of gratuitous carnal jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery).

In my ‘mainstream’ genres, there may be terms of endearment, a kiss or an embrace but they are strategically placed. Occasionally, in my erotica, there is less need for such romantic overtures, activity or subtlety. The characters might be more interested in mutual physical gratification than an emotional rollercoaster ride but there will still be character development and the activities are created with a purpose. It depends on the story.

I believe the author should strive to be faithful to the principle genre and whatever extended subjects it entails whether it be an action-packed or psychological plot, and plot or character-driven.

If you’d like to see ‘erotica’ as it once was, read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Like most other genres, erotica has moved on and readers are no longer satisfied with what was once considered shocking—people want to envisage themselves in scenes which will (in most cases) forever be a fantasy. With the greatest respect D.H.Lawrence, move over my friend.

I’m a great believer in the use of metaphor if it spells something out clearly. I’ll summarise with two questions to authors who are trying to work out if sex ought to be highlighted in a story?

Would you wear flip-flops and boxing gloves to run a marathon, or perhaps mask, snorkel and flippers to ride a bicycle?

Let’s be honest—if it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t belong.

Thank you for reading, and any comments.

Story Ideas with ‘Legs’

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I finished writing Dark to Light: Light at The End – Book 3 recently. I reminded myself that it was the easiest phase. Having said that, I’ve now also completed the first full edit, which as any author will tell you can be a mind-boggling task.

You would think that having written a trilogy and two mini-series I would sail through completion of another trilogy–not so, and I don’t believe it should be easy.

Occasionally, when an author sets out to write a story, apart from the desire to create a new world where they have complete control, it’s sometimes not clear if the tale has ‘legs’. By this, I mean that in the early, exciting stages the idea might be to write a trilogy or a series. These multiple titles create an opportunity for an in-depth and ongoing tale with a cast of impressive and well-rounded characters. Authors must always remember that some story ideas don’t have the ‘legs’ for a trilogy.

What happens if the story doesn’t have ‘legs’?

The honest answer is, it becomes a book. Yes, it’s that simple. Any decent author will know as the plot unfolds whether that daydream of a saga with those interesting ideas was simply that–a daydream, and not a great prospect for a longer story.

What happens if the story does have ‘legs’?

Ah, now we’re getting back on track. In this case, the author will get underway with the tale and enjoy developing the plot, the scenario and, of course, the characters. This is what happened for me with Light at The End: Surviving the Apocalypse. My head buzzed with ideas and characters were falling over themselves to be involved. Some of the people I considered never made it beyond the first auditions. That’s showbusiness.

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This particular story was intended to be a single book, an attempt at post-apocalyptic fiction.         I had three main things I was aiming to do with my glimpse of a world after Armageddon.

Firstly, I wanted to portray the effect of survival on a disparate bunch of people who were thrown together and would be trapped by circumstances. Secondly, I wanted to do it without the use of zombies or any other ‘undead’, which seems to be a pre-requisite for some authors of the genre. Thirdly, I wanted to involve and explore the use of the ‘Hollow Mountain‘ and the hydro-electric power station created and operating from within.

When did I know my idea had ‘legs’?

Surprisingly, this happened about halfway through the first book. I invented two people in personal situations which are poles apart. The interaction which evolved in both cases when these two individuals entered the story was the turning point. I expanded my brainstorming sheet, which is something I create for all of my stories. I knew that if treated properly, the concept had the capacity to be bigger than I’d first intended.

Did I know it would become a trilogy?

No, and again, the reason is simple. I had to wait for the response to my initial tale. For example, the cover didn’t have ‘Book 1’ added until recently. Most of the feedback was good but there’s always going to be a zombie fan. 🙂 At this point, things changed slightly. I felt that I’d accomplished something with the first book and I’d absorbed so much background information which blended with personal experience and this was indeed a story with ‘legs’–a trilogy.

Light to Dark: Light at The End – Book 2 was a tale specifically written to explore how far people might go when they’d come to terms with their ‘second chance’ and gained confidence. I believe it’s a plausible follow-up to the opening story and not a filler. There are extensions to the plot, further adventures, and character development, but for me, it had to feel that there were a natural progression, entertainment, and a satisfying ending.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey, and as I develop and polish the third part with many more drafts and in time send it out to beta readers, I’m feeling good about that initial daydream and my three aims for the story.

Dark to Light: Light at The End – Book 3 will be available in early November 2020.

Thank you for any comments and suggestions.

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A Cover Story

Astute authors will recognise that irrespective of how good their story might be, it’s the cover which is the first point of contact with the reader (or ‘the customer’ if we’re honest).

I accepted early on in my writing career that if I wanted my books to be treated seriously then I’d have to part with cash, and not for vanity publishing—some people still do. In essence, I’d have to fork out before my hard work had produced any reward in royalties.

There are many more aspects which affect the success or failure of a book but for now, I’d like to stay on topic—covers.

It didn’t take much research for me to discover that poetry and short story anthologies attracted less interest than any other aspect of creative writing. Yes, as luck would have it, my first titles came into those categories, however, I’m a positive kind of guy and saw an opportunity. Here were two areas in which I could practice the dark art of cover design. Later, I would find another. 😀

My first novel took a year to write due to me also holding down a full-time management job. I produced my idea of a cover for Beyond The Law. Even with my artistic leanings, it was not an impressive sight, so let’s not go there.

For my next two novels, I bit the bullet, which is an option not many of my characters are offered. I paid a professional cover designer to cater for Ten Days in Panama and Amsterdam Calling. Both books sold steadily and a significant lesson was learned. I asked the designer to create a cover for Beyond The Law (later to be suffixed ‘Formation’. Like the other two covers, it was expensive, but the blow was softened when I saw the effect of a decent story married up to a good cover.

In less than six months, I received sufficient royalties from Beyond the Law to cover the cost of all of my first three covers. Needless to say, I went on to use the same designer for A Taste of Honey. When Beyond the Law – the trilogy was created with the addition of ‘Retribution’ and ‘Consequences I saw regular sales. 

I continued producing the covers for my short story anthologies as the books were published. Yes, they would sell, I thought, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant a hefty outlay on covers.

One interesting twist came when I wrote my magnum opus, A Life of Choice. This was a five-part, fact-based fiction series; a depiction of my military career, but I had doubts. I hoped it was written in an entertaining and engaging style, but it was simply a story I wanted to tell. I didn’t see it as a prize winner or a major money-spinner.

I designed the covers using the ‘Regimental Colours’ of the Royal Signals (my Corps), and I used a small representative graphic for each of the five stages. My theory was that the ‘colours’ would attract the eye of some of the thousands of Royal Signals soldiers past and present. Following a slow pick-up and a few good reviews, this series rapidly established itself as my top-selling story.

The only issue I had was the regular requests for it to be available in paperback. I experimented and it took several weeks but I managed to amend the end/beginning of the five parts to convert them into a paperback trilogy—the same story, in the same words but broken at different logical points in time.

I recognised a potential saboteur—overconfidence. I contacted my professional designer and gave her a simple brief, sending her photos of the three pieces of equipment to be featured, samples of the background colours and all the printed matter for front and back exterior. For example, apart from the blurb, each book in the trilogy has excerpts from three different reviews. It took a few weeks to get there and I was delighted with the designer’s solution.

An area that some indie authors fail to register is that paperbacks are formatted differently regarding the front and back matter. I took great care in presentation, as I’ve done with all of my paperback versions so that they mirror traditional books.

One aspect of this series I didn’t expect was how much it would be enjoyed by those who had never served. The primary target of any creative writer should be to provide entertainment and it gladdens my heart to know I’ve achieved my aim with this special story.

As if by magic, the paperbacks continue to sell. I’m delighted to report that they are a popular prize at the many military fund-raising events to which I donate signed copies of the trilogy. 

I recently felt that I’d gained sufficient knowledge and experience to try my hand again at the creative, challenging skill of cover design. It took a few days but I’ve refreshed the covers for the Beyond The Law trilogy. My versions are on trial for a couple of months.

Apart from poetry and short story anthologies, I said that later I was to find another area for which I could create the covers. Erotica is that area and not surprisingly there aren’t that many reviews although they are good. There are, however, plenty of sales. 😀

If you’re an author at whatever stage of your journey, please remember that a well-crafted book with a good cover is more likely to see a healthy return on the investment of your time and money.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you.

Time after Time – now available

Some might see ‘Time after Time’ as a worn-out phrase but I saw it as both the inspiration and title for a new venture—a collection of tales related to ‘Time’.

I first considered a personal anthology of short stories using ‘Time’ as the theme and then it occurred to me to widen the net—offer the idea as a platform for fellow authors. I first had guests contributing original tales when I produced The Welcome: and other Sci-Fi stories, a ‘genre-based’ collection.

 

This new anthology is not genre-based but ‘theme-based’ which means that authors had the freedom to use any genre with which they were comfortable (except erotica), but the story had to be original and related to ‘Time’.

Occasionally, an author will be attracted to a theme and in this case, a couple of my guests provided more than one story. This is a win-win. It first provides the reader with a larger volume of entertainment for the same low price of 99p/99c. It also gives the author the opportunity to showcase more of their talent in their new work.

Why is a collection of 19 stories being sold at only 99p/99c?

My reason for producing these ‘guest author’ anthologies is not to make money, but to provide a platform for my fellow scribes and me. Short stories are one step above poetry at the lower end of eBook sales but for those who enjoy a selection of coffee-time tales and like a bargain, it works well.

For the benefit of both readers and guest authors, there is a short bio and links included for all who have submitted stories. A unique feature in this anthology is a foreword about Time by etymologist, Millie Slavidou, one of my guests. I believe the brief introduction into the subject creates the right mindset before delving into the tales.

I wrote six original stories specifically for this collection and they appear at the latter end of the book. As I’ve done for my guests, I’ve included a bio and links for readers to check out my other literary efforts.

I hope you feel motivated to give this collection a try and you are entertained. As with all eBooks I publish, this one will be available to read free on Kindle Unlimited.

If you do try the book, please consider leaving a review.

Thank you.

Tom 

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Light to Dark – now available

Six years have passed

They’re at it again—those people inside the mountain. Not content with having survived the apocalypse and found an underground sanctuary, it’s a few years later, and now they want to go out exploring.

 

If you enjoyed Light at The End, the first instalment of the tale, I’m confident you’ll enjoy this.

What could possibly go wrong when they go outside the mountain to investigate what’s left?

I’ll leave it for you to find out.

As always, any reviews are much appreciated and help to guide my hand in the next venture.

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The final part is underway and my objective is, of course, to take the tale to a logical but fulfilling conclusion.

Unusually, I’ve already     written most of the final chapter, but for this tale, it was necessary to provide me with the inspiration to   complete the trilogy.

 

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