That first manuscript

31 07 2013

Then it happens.  Years have passed, hours of solitude beyond measure, living in your own head.  You have tied off the final loose end, your (anti) heroine has achieved her aims, the final fact has been checked against more than one reference source. It’s finished.  A full draft of your first book.  You’ve proof read it again and again and it looks fine.  You know there will be oodles more typos to spot but this is it.  Add the header detail and page numbers, do a final spell check, open the window and set preferences.

Then. Press. Print.

Go boil a kettle – your home printer always takes longer than the one at work or down at the printers.

Then you have it in your hand. Your first manuscript. What the hell do you do now?

I remember doing all that. I printed it. It just sat there on the table I used as a desk back then, with a bulldog clip holding it together.  It was bigger than I’d expected and that was before I printed it single sided for sending off my publisher. I remembered exactly how I felt.

I ignored it. So I could pretend it wasn’t there I put a copy of the newspaper over it. It became a newsprint lump to try to ignore. I was pretending I didn’t have a piece of life, of mind hiding in those pages.

Who to read it first? I didn’t let anyone see it, not even a page. A big part of me was tempted to send it off before I even let my friends read it – is it right that I should prefer scorn and rejection from a stranger than from those closest to me?

But it wasn’t mine any more. That’s the point. Give birth and let it find its own place in the world. It really was an education, long sought.

Where to do it?

30 07 2013

IT. The physical act. Writing I mean?

Being creative should not be about location but the process of actually getting it down on paper, on the screen – and that typically takes a special place. Some people are lucky enough to have space enough to create their own writing zone with inspirational possessions around them and the ability to close the door onto solitude.  Some have special places out in the world with the oft-quoted anecdote about Harry Potter being brought to life surrounded by Edinburgh coffee drinkers sheltering from the rain. I’m not like that. 

I actually do have a place of my own. A desk, a PC, even a room I call a study.  But I don’t write there. My so-called study is a place for house admin, internet trawling and for meeting visitors to the house. My books come out the darkness, out of the mind locked away from the world – hot-housed so creativity is all there is to focus upon. There’s no writers’ block allowed, no breaks to make tea or put the washing on. Writing is all there is.

Some would find it difficult to find the time and isolation. Being a single man with my own house gives me that opportunity. I have made the dark spaces in my house where only I go to find creativity, where the inner eye can be focussed on a single goal. It isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone but for me it works. My output is my testament.

I’ll do it in secret, locked away from the world. But what I do is for everyone to share.


29 07 2013

Take a book.  A new book by an untried author.  I read one the other day – I won’t give away the title now because it still needs a bit of work – let’s give it a pen-name “ GW”. GW is a book that could be slotted into a number of different genres, sitting in the gray borders of thriller, crime, psychological suspense.  But for an agent or a publisher it is useful to package it up for a specific market.  Should a new author be worried about this?  Should he (for it is a he) look at the finished whole and think it needs improving so it better fits into the world’s view or, more to the point, finds the right shelf in Waterstones?

If he is writing just for fun, for himself, then no!  If he’s written the book he wanted to write then the world can like it or lump it!  However, if he is writing for profit, for recognition, for accolades then he should listen to all the professional advice he can get.  The key word there is professional.  He’s been hot-housed with that novel for years, he’s pruned it, nurtured it, loved it as much as any pigeon-fancier has his birds. Can he see what an outsider sees, does he have the experience to see what else can be done to give it a better start in life? 

Professionally recommended edits do not detract from his worth as a writer.  Yes, the book may be different as a result but it will hit the audience harder from a clearer direction and achieve its results.  If he wants to retain a ‘director’s cut’ in his cloud he can always do a retrospective on the 20th anniversary of publication but for now he should be grateful that there’s airspace for his pet to thrive within.

Competitive writing

28 07 2013

I was musing about ending stories in a previous blog.  I re-read it recently and thought it sounded like writing was a competition – one ending is ‘better’ than another.  Is it?  Should it be?  Some say all life is a competition and I do see this in the fight for sales, the difficulty new authors find in selling yourself to agents, publishers, readers and even Richard & Judy.  We authors also see it in our daily world – the festival competitions, 500-word article, panel judging.  But should we write to win or write just because we love it?

I don’t see these are mutually exclusive.  Being able craft a story on a specific theme set by a judge is still an exercise in writing a story I like.  That it has to be subjectively better than someone else’s is, in a way, not my problem if I am happy with what I have done.  I can write in the style of … but the voice is still mine.

Give me a first line and I’ll give you a story which satisfies the competition rules.  Give me a prize for it, a page in a magazine, and I might write more of the same.  Life is a competition but you can still play by your own rules.

Write your own ending

27 07 2013

Have you ever paused a TV show and written your own ending?  Not just saying at the end “I knew that was going to happen” but actually taken some time to identify all the plot lines and pull them all together in the half hour remaining before another antiques program comes on the box?

I don’t do it enough.  I have hundreds of ideas for stories, scenarios and characters all bubbling along – some on scraps of paper, some still unformed in my head.  Sometimes the whole story appears in my mind fully formed but mostly they are just ideas, a scene, a simple key sentence.  Working out how to move them forward, link some together is about practise.  Practising your craft is not just about writing  that beautiful phrasing, alluring alliteration, it’s about finding the twist, the think that keeps the reader turning the page, seeking your name on the railway station shelf.

It was quite easy with Titanic – the ending seemed to write itself – but should it have been so easy with Avatar? Should a TV murder come so easily? At times yes – the daytime hour from the US varies from the easy (the aging star wouldn’t be in it just for a bit part) to the totally impossibly obscure (one clue, nearly offscreen in the first scene is the key to it all).

However, the quality of multi-episodal TV drama writing these days makes it satisfying to think through the ‘correct’ ending – the spy thwarted, the murderer caught – but how much more satisfying it is to do it differently?  How much better to watch the final episode a week later, reach the end and then say “my ending was better!”?

Pseudonyms – what’s in a name?

26 07 2013


JK Rowling is actually Robert Galbraith – or is that vice versa? “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was not written by some canny bloke with a striking turn of phrase about women’s clothes but by wizard obsessive Rowling.  She has moved on in more ways than one. Tales about Harry, Ron and (admittedly less common) Hermione have now become more adult and talk about one Cormoran Strike. Good name – is it a pseudonym as well?


I have no problem with pseudonyms. Lots of good reasons for using them – from JK’s anonymity and desire to be judged on her own literary merits, through to hiding something about your real self. Would Mein Kampf have sold so well written by Hilda Bathwater, Five go to Kirren Island by Brigadier De’Ath?  There is also the embarrassment factor. Should a respected journalist, literary professor, industry stalwart want their google name search interspersed with fan-fiction about the soft porn novels churned out in their spare time? Better Trudy Biglove gets the fans and Professor X gets the cash and solid reputation!


I did like the spate of books that came out when Da Vinci Code appeared. So many men suddenly had names which rhymed with Dan Brown or could be easily mistaken for his name by a commuter in a hurry. Dan, Sam, Tom. How many were real names?


If an author has a good reason then so be it. Let it lie. However, should we have the same view if it is (crassly?) commercial decision by the publisher? Should authors allow themselves to see their work under another’s name simply because their surname has too many syllables or doesn’t translate well into another language? Are commercial reasons so bad? Are they all crass?


My writing is my own. My name is my own. I am me.  Honest!

Chris Froome – biography of a champion

25 07 2013

I asked in my blog recently about Andy Murray – how quickly can a biography be rushed out after he won Wimbledon? Not long as it turns out!

The next question is about Christ Froome (born 20th May 1985 in case you need your facts quickly).

According to t’interweb he hasn’t got a biography or autobiography out yet. The 100th Tour de France (LeTour) finishes on Sunday 21st July and any winner should be able to get a book out in a couple of weeks at most.  It’s needed before the hype dies away – no Olympics to follow it up with like Wiggo did in 2012!

To assist those waiting for the biography here are some brief highlights

–       Born in Nairobi, Kenya – luckily for us he has enough Brit in his to join our side (since 2008)

–       Went to school in South Africa as a teenager

–       Got his passion for cycling in the highlands north of Nairobi

–       First Tour in 2008

–       Rides professionally for Team Sky (since 2010). 

–       He is 186cm tall and his fighting weight is under 70kg

I’m not a biographer. Fiction is my game but even after all these years in that game I remain fascinated by the writing process both creatively but also commercially. The commercial aspects of publishing need to be watched – spot the trend, see where change is coming from, ride the wave or plunge into a new fiord? All things that a writer needs to watch!

Here I’m watching speed of output. Will quality suffer for speed? Will sales justify the risk? Will Froome-Dawg be victorious not only on the streets of Paris but also on the e-shelves of Kindle-world!


If you want more bio and updates you can go nowhere better than

Andy Murray – the autobiography

23 07 2013

It is a good week or so since Andy Murray (Andrew Barron Murray to be accurate) won Wimbledon. A week of plaudits, interviews, marriage speculation, considerations of awards, statues, knighthoods, canonisation. All for winning a game of tennis – a great game of tennis, no arguments from me there.

But the question is, the real question, the big question… Where is the autobiography? He’s had a week! Where is it?

There are old ones on t’interweb. Even one claiming to be an AUTObiography rather than biography. They rushed one out after he won the US major tournament and Olympic gold last year so where is it? Where is all the new juicy stuff about how he continued to train hard, practise lots, eat even more sushi and generally keep on doing what he started doing a while ago.

Oh, and he believes in himself a bit more!

Now the thing is – he is a tennis player. He plays tennis, lives for it. He doesn’t have the time, or the literary skills to quickly knock up a couple of extra chapters and refresh the opening sections of his old bios so someone, somewhere – probably more than one person – is frantically proofing something that someone else probably 90% wrote before the first ball of Wimbledon was even tossed high in the air on some outer court.

Who is it – put your hands up? Who is Andy’s current ghost writer? Who’s going to get it out there before Sports Personality voting starts, before the awards committees sit, before the Archbishop or Pope next puts a word in upstairs? 

What are the odds it is in Waterstones before end of July – just in time for some holiday reading?