Light at the End

 

The ‘working’ cover

I’ve published short stories in a wide variety of genres, but before tackling a novel I think ‘long and hard’, which I suppose is a reasonable euphemism for writing a novel.

Many authors who write sci-fi, dystopian or apocalyptic naturally populate their world with those creatures with whom we are most well-acquainted—humans. If not human, the characters are invariably a variation of the model. The unbelievable can be found in any genre but, in sci-fi,  dystopian and apocalyptic stories, we as readers must more readily ‘accept’ the author’s word—it has to be convincing.

Apart from reading pretty much anything I also write in a broad spectrum. Although my sci-fi short stories have been well-received, for a long time I’ve wanted to write a novel with a sci-fi/dystopian/apocalyptic flavour. I was afraid of being drawn into a world of unpronounceable equipments, scientific jargon, strange weaponry, beams, time warps and goodness knows what else.

Two writing theories came to mind. ‘Write what you know’ and ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances’. Now, here were two things I could work with in my new venture.

Alternative colour scheme

During my morning cycle rides when my surroundings permit, I let my thoughts wander and over many weeks I dreamt up a situation which involved ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances’. If I’m writing ‘what I know’ then that as always will be down to memory, experience, knowledge and research.

My sci-fi/dystopian/apocalyptic novel has the working title ‘Light at the End’. Like most of my titles, this one carries more than one meaning.

For the benefit of new writers or those who are interested in such things as how an author’s mind works when a new idea is bubbling under the surface, I used my favourite method for building the basics before writing any of the story. It’s a one-man brainstorming session.

– On a regular A4 sheet of paper, I drew a bubble and wrote the title inside.

– From this first point, I drew a line with a bubble on the end and wrote ‘tunnel’.

– From ‘tunnel’ I added several other threads with bubbles on the end—some of these immediately gaining their own extension.

– Back at the central bubble I extended more threads and added topics like ‘nuclear strike’, ‘tourists’, inhabitants’ and so on. Inside about thirty minutes I had thirty extensions from the original bubble—Light at the End.

– I spent twenty minutes listing character names and ‘other considerations’, writing as fast as possible when an idea came to mind. Speed is more beneficial than procrastination when brainstorming, otherwise it becomes braindrizzle. Characters would need names—not descriptions or ages—not yet, but male and female—yes.

I stopped the whole brainstorm session at one hour.

Result?

Forty circles with topics or sub-topics, and a list of forty ‘other considerations’.

While my thoughts were concentrated on the new story idea I had to keep pushing. Next up was another sheet of paper on which I drew a quick sketch of the tunnel and the surrounding countryside. By this stage, I was thinking of the opening scenes.

Before I stopped working I assessed progress.

A working title, a cover, a wide spread of information required, a plan of the main location, characters … and a catastrophe waiting to happen.

I performed the brainstorming session on Thursday evening and yesterday (Friday), I spent the day working on Chapter 1 – A Leap of Faith. Take a look and leave a comment if you wish. It’s a bit rough, due to being the first draft, which like the brainstorming was produced rapidly.

After much heart-searching, I’ve amended the sub-title/strapline from dystopian to apocalyptic. The two phrases are regularly and rightly associated, but I feel my tale will lean more heavily toward one than the other. Stranger than fiction really, since I’ve only written one chapter.

You’ve got to love being an author.

As always, thank you for dropping by, and for any comments or suggestions.

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How Far Should We Go?

 

No, it’s not a question about bedroom antics – but I have written a few stories in that area.
Yes, it is do with journeys, but not merely in space, the final frontier – some of the journeys are much closer to home.

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How far are we prepared to allow our imaginations go?

A reader should enjoy more than one genre, even if they tend to lean more to a main one.
Yes, I’m a lover of adventure stories, and thrillers, but I’ve read and enjoyed romance, paranormal, horror, YA, sci-fi, dystopian, and a few more besides.

How does a variety of material reward me as a reader?

Apart from enjoying the variety, I believe it helps me to focus clearly when I return to the bedrock of my reading – the thriller, or adventure story.

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A creative writer ought to try something similar. In my humble opinion, a writer should occasionally get out of their comfort zone, and stretch. They should exercise the main accessory in the toolbox of their craft – imagination.

In the previous section, I mentioned being able to focus clearly on my return to reading thrillers or adventure stories. Switching genre also aids me as a writer.

How can altering my reading assist me as a creative writer?

Until recently, I looked upon Science Fiction as a genre beyond my reach, but one day when my caffeine levels were particularly high, it struck me that it had more to do with imagination than knowledge of the genre.

I will tackle any genre for two reasons.

1 – to find out if I enjoy the writing.

2 – to find out if I can entertain in that particular area.

In the same way a reader might choose to stick with what they know, so too can a writer, but if you’re a single-genre writer, let me, as a multi-genre writer put an idea to you.

Think about the excitement of setting up a new story. Now, imagine trying a new story in a genre you’ve never tried before.

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Let’s go full circle, and get back to where we came in to this article.

How far should we go?

In my efforts to push myself and to entertain those people kind enough to try, or continue to support my brand – I am prepared to go to considerable lengths.

My thrillers and erotica are laced with incidents from my life, some big, some small, but my latest venture has taken me to the stars … and I’ve landed characters on some of them.

The Welcome: and other sci-fi stories

This is not only my work, but includes the efforts of a handful of guest authors who have each been kind enough to indulge me by donating a story.

Why did I invite guest authors?

I didn’t do it because I wasn’t confident to produce my standard 12 stories for a collection.

I didn’t do it because I wasn’t confident in writing a genre I’ve only dabbled in previously.

My aim was to produce the best and most varied collection I could on such a wonderful topic. I want readers of this collection to sit back and think about the stories and the theories long after reading our efforts. I know that my guests would echo the sentiment that we want readers of this collection to truly enjoy the journeys.

I sent out an open invitation a few weeks ago, to give fellow authors an opportunity to join me in this venture. At the time of this article, two of my six guests are novice writers, and four are experienced writers, but all will have their own take on what makes a good sci-fi tale, and for me, that is the exciting part.

This book will have three key components, apart from the running theme of the genre.

1 – Six stories are penned by me.

2 – Six stories are penned by my guest authors.

3 – Three ‘bonus’ stories by me will be added at the end. These three extra stories are already featured in other collections.

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I will not be posting the guest authors’ names on the Amazon page when I publish, because this will connect us in the complexities of Amazon’s referral system. It’s not a topic to deal with here.

I decided it would be more beneficial to put those authors’ names where they belong – right there on the front cover, where I have my name. They will also be supplying personal contact information to be included in the book.

I feel that this is the fairest way to repay and market my guests.

How did I work out whose story goes where?

I considered the various hi-tech methods of dealing with this quandary, and in the name of fairness I’ve interspersed my work with my guests’ stories. I’ve placed the guest work in author / alphabetical order.

Whether or not you are a Sci-Fi aficionado, I would ask you to consider taking a look through your reading telescope at our joint effort when I publish – Sunday 20th December 2015. Perhaps having seen the sample in your telescope you’ll decide you’d like to take a shuttle to our many and varied destinations.

If you should decide to try our work, I’m sure I speak for all when I ask that you be kind enough to leave a review of your findings.

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As always, you have my sincere thanks for reading my thoughts, plans and intentions. All comments are ‘Welcome’.

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Book cover - You're Not AloneIncludes ‘Goals‘.

Smoke & Mirrors - 030714 2Includes ‘Down to Earth

912FmvSHzYL._SL1500_Includes ‘Out of this World

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Beautiful People

Jan 1986 - CopyOne of the joys of being a creative writer is forming a person from imagination. It can be a short, spectacle wearing, ginger-haired Londoner who depends on the support of a walking stick.

It could be a 21-year-old girl, with blue eyes, long dark lashes, and auburn hair that almost reaches her waist. Her favourite outfit might be T-shirt, Daisy Dukes, and training shoes.

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Whatever the age, background, profession or appearance, it’s up to the writer to portray what is required for the character in question.

I like to create good-looking characters, although I’ve found it necessary to give birth (metaphorically speaking), to big, bald, muscular men who have a livid scar near the left eye, and a serious issue with people defying them.

On occasion I’ve created a quiet little woman who slips from scene to scene practically unnoticed. March 1985 2

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Why have I decided to write about this aspect of writing?

I had a review not long back which suggested that my characters were all too good-looking. Well, I’m sorry for populating a story with such characters, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

Forgive me dear reviewer, whoever you are. I didn’t have a picture of you to use as a character description!

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Have you ever been reprimanded in a review for creating people who are too attractive?

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Have you ever been asked why a certain character has a certain idiosyncrasy?

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While I’m here today, I thought I’d bend to demand and prove that I can draw the male form as well as the female.

If you don’t like the look of the people in the drawings that accompany this post, I’m really sorry.

One of the sketches is a self-portrait … not!

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As always, I thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings and rhetoric, and for leaving any feedback.

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Writing Apprenticeship – Part 2 of 2

A handful of the reference books I keep close to hand

A handful of the reference books I keep close to hand

There will be many who take offence at my suggestion that there are some writers out there who are not really concerned with creating a worthwhile product. That in itself is unfortunate, because a short time after posting Part 1 of this very article, I found a FREE promotion by a fellow Indie author which incensed me.

I don’t want to dedicate this piece to that one author, so I’ll leave out a lengthy explanation about the many issues I discovered – and I only read the samples of all three books.

If you missed Part 1 of this article, the gist of it is my concern that we have a large number of people purporting to be ‘writers’, who are turning out badly presented, badly edited, over-priced ‘books’. If we expect to sell our work it should at least be worthy of the price. Even if we are giving the product away, it should be presented to a marketable standard.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I have my own unofficial set of requirements for the ‘average’ Indie author. I believe we should all have the following at the very least:
imagination – ideas – integrity – diligence – knowledge (of subject) – a good story – a decent vocabulary – thick skin (for negative feedback) – stamina – determination – life experience – time – an open mind – acceptance of constructive criticism – a basic knowledge of creative writing conventions.

Yes, the list could go on, I know.

When we produce our book we must have some idea of how to ‘present’ the product. I paid an ‘experienced’ editor to assist on my first book and still found issues after I’d published. At that point I decided to learn more and go it alone with most of the work. Since my first book, I’ve had the assistance of a proof-reader who has stood by me in everything I’ve published.

I develop my story and make minor edits with each draft. By the third draft I use my proof-reader. Invariably this is followed by another draft. At this stage I use a grammar/punctuation programme. I print my manuscript more than once during my process to allow me to edit as I revise the individual chapters. There is no set number of drafts, but I try hard to recognise when ‘enough is enough’.

Prior to being uploaded to Amazon I will have a printed version of my manuscript in front of me in a room where there is no TV, radio, or other people. I perform one final line edit, which is a tedious, laborious, time-consuming, but necessary obligation to the end-user; the reader.
Now having said all of the above, I’m proud to be a member of the Indie Author Review Exchange. We have every level of talent, from the novice with one title, to the experienced author with a considerable portfolio.

Why should I feel a pride in such a group?
– We have an unwritten mutual pledge to help each other which is strong and can be seen by the support offered every day and it’s an International community.
– We have writers whose first language is not English, but they’ve produced remarkable work which they have had successfully translated, which is something that seriously impresses me.
– We have novice writers who are not afraid to ask for help or advice.

Is there a negative or downside?
Yes, unfortunately we have a couple of writers who believe that they’ve done enough work, and they are not prepared to heed a friendly word of advice. Unfortunate, but that is their choice.

Why is that negative?
It is negative because it affects credibility. In the first instance it damages the credibility of the individual author’s brand. Apart from that relatively minor issue, a badly produced piece of work by an Indie writer is a slur on all of us.

Is there anything positive?
There are many traditionally published authors who are unhappy about our emergence and success. They would be happy to see our entire movement curtailed, so the best thing we can do is to prove the doubters wrong – and show them that we are all achieving a high standard in every way.

I realise that like me, there are vast numbers of Indie writers who have a ‘day job’ to pay the bills, or a family to raise, so it is a credit to our movement that we have been so successful both as individuals, and as a growing section of the publishing industry.

Thank you as always for reading my thoughts, and I welcome comments or discussion.

A Variety of Indulgence

Today’s drawing is of a lovely young lady I enjoyed reproducing rapidly in colour, but sadly never met.

Oh what to wear ...

Some folk might suggest that ‘Those In Peril’ by Wilbur Smith takes the sex scenes and violence a step too far, possibly to the point of gratuitous but for me it was graphic and portrayed man’s inhumanity to man (and woman) clearly.  Imagination was still required but there was no doubt about the intention to spell out the true horror of the particular situations.  As always the main characters are sexier, fitter, better at everything and multi-talented, but that’s what makes them what they are.

The tale itself is well told and is written in the present day where the pirates are operating from the east coast of Africa.  Their only interest is money and they have scant regard for human rights or life itself.  Those in the position of having a loved one or colleague kidnapped for ransom have no room for complacency as graphic video is sent to assure them of the torture befalling the hostage.

It portrays well that even if you own a global company and you flit from one continent to another, all the money in the world is not going to make the position any easier to deal with.  The tale contains a healthy, or should it be unhealthy? mix of violence, love, sex, religious fanatasiscm, relationships in general and fierce loyalty.  I enjoyed it mainly because I knew what to expect at the outset.

Once captured by the reading bug I went on to pamper myself with ‘And Thereby Hangs a Tale’ a collection of short stories by Jeffrey Archer.  For me, Jeffrey Archer is the master of the short story and even in that type of writing he manages to lace each tale with a considerable amount of fact and detail.  It’s in that fact and detail that I feel there is a similarity in the writing of Jeffrey Archer and Wilbur Smith.  Some may say it’s the research, but even after research the material must be put across in an interesting and imaginative way.  They both manage it for me.

In my own writing I’ve composed another handful of poems this past few days and put the finishing touches to my anecdote piece for the monthly magazine Scottish Memories.  If my tale, ‘Brothers In Arms’ is published I will be paid a small amount in cash terms, but the important aspect for me is the publishing of my material, whatever the genre or publication.  The anecdote is about me and two of my brothers on one of our trips to the cinema a couple of miles from where we lived, when I was about 12 years old.

My recent poems have covered a factual piece on prostitution, a passionate encounter, my writing and two about natural history.