Using a photo of your hero/ine

18 06 2014
my hero?

my hero?

How do you picture your hero? Your leading lady? That person you are spending every spare waking hour thinking about and trying to get inside their heads – what do they look like?

Most first time writers find their characters too close to either themselves or to a friend, ex-colleague. Then they have to go through and add a false moustache, dodgy accent or side parting. However, is there an easier way for us to disassociate with your characters whilst also having a focus for the thoughts and feelings you are endowing them with.

I use photos and portraits. Some might argue it’s a bit of a cheat but I argue back. How is it so different to illustrating a character for a cover of a book? It is still from imagination since all I have is a face, hair, sometimes not even a body. But with a picture I have a base to build their dreams upon.

But whose to use? I have a red folder full of faces. Some cut from magazines, some from the internet, some blown up from backdrops in holiday shots. All filed away in order of hair colour initially, then within hair colour are grouped people with the same shape of face, down to nose categories. I built my folder with a hundred men and a hundred women some five years ago so even if any had backstories I had glanced at in the magazine of choice I have no recollection of the facts. They are just fodder now. Nameless faces I build my books upon. Ghosts.

How do I picture my heroines, my leading men, by bit characters and murderers. I look them up in the directory and give them their names. Then they build their biographies as their stories come to life.

Hopefully some of their fictional lives make up for hard times in the real world.





Sequel – how many is too many?

30 08 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels. How many can you have? How many stories about the same hero can you write. I think Clive Cussler has over 30 about Dirk Pitt. How about Captain Johns and Biggles, Conan Doyle and Sherlock, Blyton and her five or seven adventurers. Sometimes you have no choice but to write more and more and more.  Doyle tried to kill off Holmes but wasn’t allowed. Wodehouse occasionally bored of Jeeves but had to keep popping back for more.

Some would say I am more semantically discussing series rather than sequels but the dividing line is blurred. Following a single life through multiple adventures seems to me to be a series of sequels but should a sequel follow concurrently to be a sequel rather than a series? Does it ultimately matter? Let us assume for now that it doesn’t. Sequel = series.

So how many is too many? Should the author choose or the readers? The rise of fan fiction would indicate that for some readers there can never be enough. The hero resonates so much in their own lives that they want to take them to new places, given them new experiences. Do I, as an author, own my character, own my heroines? I think I do. Unless I say to the world that their lives are their own for others to develop then I think that I do. Mrs Vintner belongs to me and I do with Penny B what I wish. Or, strong women as they are, I do with them as they wish!

There is no limit on the tales to tell about a hero, a band of brothers, a dynasty, a country. Each links to the other and builds to create a world which your reader wants to live. If you, as a writer, do get bored of it and need a new direction then you can do no worse than to let your creation go. But before you give them into the hands of all and sundry who daily contribute to the slushpiles of creation why not consider the ghost writer, the co-writer – you can’t stop having ideas about the people you created so why not let someone you trust write their lives for you.

Don’t kill off your Holmes, outsource him!





Is too much detail drowning your readers?

24 08 2013

How much imagination do you have? How much should I, as a writer, assume you have? Can you see your way through an allusion to an Egyptian deity or are you stumped by a simple simile or metaphor?

I ask because I am intrigued. I read an action book the other day. Non-stop rollercoaster ride of guns, explosions, capture and miraculous escape, mysteries quickly solved and a handsome, strong, lucky and brilliant hero (with obligatory wise-cracking sidekick). I turned my imagination off and just read and read and read and it was great.

Then I opened the book at random and read a page or two critically. Do I need to know the exact engine specification of the Bentley Continental or just that it is big and black? Does it help me visualise the action? Do I need to exact model of the gun, the specification of the telescopic sight or a comment on the range and capabilities? It was a sniper rifle handled by an expert marksman – they wouldn’t choose a toy cap gun would they?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I don’t tend to give too much detail – just enough, I think, to let readers make their own pictures in their minds. Which is the right way to do it? Are my books too hard to read and put people off or are his too easy to read and … put people off?

Each to their own. Each genre has its own requirements. I didn’t think the nameless action book was a literary masterpiece but I did think it was a cracking read.

But I will only read it once!





Topical fiction – It’s Alive! Alive, I tell you!

21 08 2013

Sometimes an author gets lucky! They’ll be beavering away, writing hard about, say, a dark psychological view of a man’s twisted world. Then they’ll be taking a break and see on the TV news that their anti-hero was real. There was someone out there who’d just been caught doing exactly the same thing. Something that some in the real world would call a crime!

Two things would run through that author’s mind. Firstly – they are not alone in the dark. Second – is this prime publicity for their book?

Is it? Should he quickly finish it off, even if second rate finishing, just to get it out in time to get some fillip from the fourth estate, ride some wave of rich ghoulish publicity? Or should he continue on his way, writing what he wants to write – perhaps taking some elements of reality into fiction – but not letting the world’s priority impact his inner creative urgency?

A third thought comes…

This was a particularly dark tale from suburban American. If he doesn’t get the book out soon, will some pulp fiction author steal his thunder with a piece of reality-based-fiction and leave him with only the dregs and reputation as a coat-tail-hanger, a genre-stealer?

No – if the public want tales from beneath ground level, they’ll get what they want!





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 www.chris-froome.com





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?