A New Book & a New Season

I sign off to all the things a lot because by my nature I want to do all the things.

I’m currently listening to the Revolutions podcast cover the French revolution and you best believe that I want to read more about it and a tiny part of me thinks hey, learning French to read original sources would be cool.

What I am actually doing is working on a new book and blogging for another NFL season. The NFL blog started as a step towards becoming a more serious writer. It gave me somewhere to practice that had scheduled content that would ensure I have to kept at it and establish a writing routine. Over the years it has helped me by making me write a lot of words, learn more about American Football, think about coaching and leadership, get comfortable talking on a podcast, build and improve websites via Wordpres.com – the list goes on.

So whilst I have started my fifth year writing the blog and still I haven’t been hired by the NFL, ESPN, or The Ringer, it is still teaching me things. The custom menu bar I’ve just put up on thewrongfootball.com will enable me to sort out some navigation bits for my writer’s site shortly and I literally figured that out last week now that my friend is writing posts rather than producing podcasts and I wanted to tidy up the blog streams.

What does this mean for writing? Well it is true my fiction writing slows down a little for the following four months, but it also gives a flow to the year that keeps both things fresh. I would have liked to have got a bit more writing done this summer, both fiction and for the NFL blog but publishing a book takes up a lot of time and the more you want to do with a book, the more it appears I need to research. That’s not because I didn’t know where things are going with the series of books I am writing, I have the outlines blocked out and various key plot points setup, but when you start to fill them in by writing the actual words you need the detail.

‘But don’t you make them up, out of your head? I thought you just asked what happened next.’ I don’t hear you ask.

I’m pretending one of you asked this question to get to the point I want to make, and feel free to read my guest blog here if you want to get the background on the above quote, because what I said was true. However, even if I have asked the question and know what is going to happen next – that doesn’t mean I know the how of it and one of things that I have to do is work out the mechanics of everything that is happening in my books for it to make sense to me. I am slowly getting better at learning what I need to cut from my early drafts so I can better judge what to show and what to hide, which is required to stop a living story becoming a dry list of details. Yet as someone who always wants to know how things work, I need to have as many details tied up as I can so that the story works as there is nothing as jarring in a book than when the story doesn’t hold true to its own internal logic.

As someone who writes the kind of story that frequently has magic or other worldly elements, these have to stay contained within a coherent structure that does more than simply resolve plot points for me. You can’t just produce a magic object to solve a problem you have written yourself into or rely on plot armour for your characters to remain unharmed. If you establish trust an audience will go with you, but only so far and even when you are making up entirely new things they feel more real if you can structure them in something analogous.  Or perhaps you’re trying to talk about something without just saying, here comes the bit on equality or how you should live your life.

As a writer I like to have a certain amount of research done, and I have gone back and done some more for this book having made a false start of the early chapters but I’m now at a point where I’m happy to keep working through the first draft, even if I have already found a topic that I need to investigate even more deeply. Yeah, it’s a tough job for a bibliophile, needing to read books to help further your craft or to fine tune a plot point, character trait, or if you want to write something based in psychological truth.

I’m trying to balance this against the NFL blog and researching marketing to try to get my books into more people’s hands. As someone who works full time, I cannot devote the time that some self-published authors do to events so whilst I’m not trying to sneak shortcuts, and I’m not afraid of hard work, I am trying to learn more to keep things rolling and to find new readers.

Still, it’s a part of modern publishing so I’ll keep plugging away and hope you hang in with me. I have so many more stories to tell and hopefully with your help I can find enough people to keep telling them to. If you’ve enjoyed either of the books give them a review or buy a copy as a present or recommend them to a librarian if you know one.

As for me, it’s back to the never ending job list that is life.

What’s next?

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A Month is a Short Time in Publishing

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There is something reassuring that as much as technology and society seems to be speeding up the world around us, that writing and publishing still work on a slower time scale because until someone can come up with an algorithm smart enough to edit and understand natural languages, the editing and layout of stories is still something people have to do, at least for now.

Sure computers have sped the process up massively and I can use an application to compare files to make sure only the changes I have marked up have been carried out, but at various points I’ve still had to check the pages by eye and print off copies to read. I don’t always do this for editing, but if you want to take a really close look at the text then there is really no substitute for holding it in your hand as there is a difference between reading a text on a computer screen rather than paper.

I feel like I am getting better at this process, but it inevitably takes more time when you have to find an hour here or there round a full time job to do it. Heidi, who is the person coordinating my book’s journey through production at Troubador has been wonderfully patient and although I did find a handful of edits from the last typeset I wrote about here, the text is now set and we’re just working through the last few layout tweaks before I can pass it for press.

What has been finished is the cover, and I will blog about that properly once I have all the images I need to show you the various stages of the journey from vague ideas connected to the book, to sketches, selections, the final image taking place and the full cover.

I’m very close to letting go of the book, as every writer does, because at some point there is nothing left to do but let it go into the world and hope people take care of it.

I have been researching book three when I can for months now, but hopefully that should pick up pace soon, which is good as it feels like a long time since I did some actual creative writing.

However, my focus obviously has to be on the current book and I’ll soon be sitting down with my marketing person (it still feels a little weird to say that) to shape up what we can do to get The Price of Magic in front of as many people as possible. That might not have been the most showy way of revealing the title of my new book, but hey, I’m not really that kind of writer.

Onwards to the next thing.

To all the things!

The Difficult Second Album

Somehow seven months have slipped by since I last updated this blog. That’s time for an entire season of NFL blogging, multiple edits of the new book and typeset checks so I guess I had better get things back on track with this blog and quickly, because whilst I may have been quiet on here, things have been anything but quiet for me.

So, where am I now?

I have come out of the post NFL relax week or two that usually follows the end of the Super Bowl and what I think of as my NFL blogging season. The NFL blog has been a great platform to learn when I can write, gives me structured thing to practise developing content and getting writing reps in, and gives me an excuse to watch a lot of American Football. I also thoroughly enjoy my weekly chats with Dan for the podcast, which also helps me form ideas for the blog and help give it structure, and this season get NFL trivia questions wrong. For those of you who were listening you will have got a sneak preview of the title of the new book.

I have already started to outline how I might tweak things for next season, but there’s plenty of time to think about that.

Whilst the season was going on, we’ve put in place the plan for the sequel to A Ghost Called Dog got everything sorted out with the relevant publishing companies and I’ve been hard at it. Mostly I have been focussed on turning the new book into the best piece of work I can. We have used the same editor, Karen Holmes, who edited Ghost but the new book is setting up something bigger and more complex so the draft I started from needed a fair bit of work and it took a couple of passes to turn that draft into a manuscript that works the way I intended

You always learn from your mistakes and there are several things I can take away from this process that will hopefully serve to improve the next book’s development. I say improve as I believe it is a common folly for all writers to start their next book full of confidence that they have learnt so much and there will be no problems with this one. Yeah right…

Still, I am determined to improve things both in terms of planning, plotting, and my initial editing process. I think I’ll always need to write my way through problems and questions, but hopefully I can weed out the excess that readers don’t need to see before putting the next manuscript in front of an editor. I might need a better laser printer for that.

I did at least avoid the whole difficult second album problem because my life did not change radically after the release of Ghost, and although it was my first published book, Ghost was in fact the third book I had written.

Currently, I am trying to get the typeset finished. My latest batch of amends has gone back to the publisher, and I’m confident once those changes have been made that the text will be set. We will still need to check the layout to find out what if anything has drifted and if we need to move any text around pages, but we are getting close. I am excited about how the illustration for the cover has turned out and as we have the dimensions of the spine sorted I don’t think it will be too long before the full cover starts to takes shape.

I’ll keep you updated on how things are going, and I have a couple of other tweaks and changes that I’ve been thinking about for the website and staying in contact with everyone.

For now I will say, I am incredibly grateful to all the people who have had kind words to say, been supportive, or just wondered where I found the time. I’m not giving up any time soon; I have a bunch of ideas for future books outside of the sequels for the little series I’m developing now. I just have to keep going with the writing and finding ways to get that writing into people’s hands, digital devices, or even uploaded directly into your brains once the technology exists. That last one might be a little over the mark…

Reality Hits – Editors and the Creative Process

If you have spent any time reading or looking at things about actual writing then you might quickly notice that the reality is not what is sold in books, TV, or film. Perfect prose does not slip easily from pen or keyboard, no matter how inspired you are, and there is a certain type of prolonged effort (some might even call it pig-headedness) that you have to embrace in order to reach the end of your first draft. And this is just the beginning.

In my last blog I wrote about finding a self-publishing company, which I am happy to say is 2QT up in the Yorkshire Dales. The manuscript has been sent off to their editor and this is where the fun begins.

There is a certain trepidation in showing your work to anyone, but for me there is also an excitement about working with an editor. I am lucky enough to be working with Karen Holmes who is an editor, copywriter, and author. She works with 2QT amongst others, and has certainly given me plenty to think about already.

I can’t claim to be an expert, but knowing how involved we writers are with our words, and how hard it is to both to get and take good criticism in any creative endeavour, I would imagine there is a certain level of trepidation for an editor when a new person’s book hits their desk. Sure there is a whole new book to explore, but is it any good and more importantly, will the author engage with the process? I won’t make any bold claims about the quality of my writing as my route into the craft does not have an academic underpinning, but I think I may have one advantage over some.

One of the many reasons that writing wormed its way into my life is that enables me to express things that are simply not possible from behind a drum kit, no matter how hard I tried. However, twenty years of being a musician has taught me a thing or two about the creative arts. I know how much work goes into producing seemingly effortless results and how to maintain that effort, but being a musician has also shown me with how to navigate a collaborative creative process. In the early days it can seem to some like every suggestion, every deviation from what you originally brought to the group, is a criticism or failure. However, all of the most successful bands that I have been in were based on everyone having an equal say, taking the best ideas and moving forward with them. The important thing is to create the best work possible utilising everybody’s skill and interests to the fullest extent possible. It is also one thing to read about this, or even write it, but having real world experience is what gives you faith in the process.

I knew writing for children was difficult. The choice of word and idea has to be carefully made to hold the interest of your reader and be of the appropriate complexity for the age you are writing for, all without talking down to them. I am also aware that the first draft of anything is really about getting the idea down. Everybody’s process is different; some like to have everything planned out, whilst others sit down and write to find the story. I am somewhere in the middle, but my big thing is always to get that first draft down so I can polish it later. The difficulty here is that it is very easy once you are deep in a draft to lose focus, either on plot, language, or both. This is where an editor is so helpful, because they read the draft without any of the baggage you bring having written it. Not to mention they are very likely better than you at writing in the first place.

It was not my first or second draft that headed off to be looked at, but having got the results back, it was certainly not my last either. I am still processing what Karen and I discussed, but the important thing is to have faith in process and not to be afraid to cut things that you truly love, or fight for the things that you believe are essential. It is not always easy to know which is which, but by talking it through and working hard they should become apparent. About the only thing I am sure of right now is that there will be questions heading to Karen in the coming weeks, but the pig-headed masochist in me is looking forward to the challenge of working over a new draft.

Time for me to get started.