The socks! Why the socks?

30 10 2015

the black wool-mix of the base colour was nearly obscured by the colours. Vibrant discs of orange, yellow and red marched around each ankle in regimented bands which presumably paraded from toe to hidden calf. 

The rest was business. Blue trousers – not salesman shiny. White shirt – crisp, cuffed, woven. Tie- half Windsor knotted, blue, slight pattern. Watch – gold but understated. 

But the socks…

Characterisation is about giving your people reality, clear places in their world where they live. They may live uncomfortable lives but they. Do. Live. 

Socks tell us nothing. Should they? 

I’ve been guilty myself on putting a comedy tie on a man to make the reader associate him (falsely in that case) with the office joker, possibly sad and lonely on the inside and overcompensating but that would not be unexpected. 
But what about socks?

What do you think when you see a businessman in non-“standard” socks? Do we have any common cultural references to build on? 

Run out of clean socks? Does he live alone, work away?

Christmas present? Living family? Children? Mad aunt? Work secret Santa?

But why put them on if given a choice? What do you want the world to know, to see, to guess?

I’m open to ideas on this one. Comments welcome
Comedy socks – why?





The Empty Cellar

21 10 2015

My ideas are generated in the cellar. Each room a generator of a different idea, a different view. A story viewed from one room can look completely different if I take a look from the creative sitting locked in the cellar cell next door. A stalled story arc can be resurrected or rechanneled by seeing the whole at 90•. 
Travelling has left my cellar rooms empty. Clean sheets, fresh clothes, pleasantly scented. But empty. Now is the time to think about the minds, the creatives I want to put in each one. Do I want a boho free spirit, a constrained and uptight bookworm, a journo with tight style and logical bent? Or go for random. Try a few and keep what I like the feel of and to the furnace with the dross? Time will tell what minds will work on the next Penny B mystery but she will return from the cellar (of my mind?)
Image care of Stuart miles and free digital images. Net





Not so floppy!

22 06 2014

not so floppy!

not so floppy!

I was on one of my clear-outs of the Drawer of Ideas yesterday evening and found some history. Ancient history to anyone under 20. Floppy discs. Not the big 7.5 inch ones but the little hard plastic rectangles with the metal slider protecting the circle of black floppiness. Old news.

Well actually not! Old stories yes but not old news. Old ideas – but when I rooted through them (having found a converter from Lotus Notes to a more usable word processor) I was surprised to see elements of a number of my current books sitting hidden in stories I wrote 10 or even 20 years ago. These were my backups from the birth of the computer age where a book had to be split into sections, chapters even, and saved across multiple discs. And then saved on multiple more, stored in a different room or sent to relatives for storage against the inevitable fire.

However, fire wasn’t the biggest risk. There was a more dangerous enemy to the floppy disc lurking in every house, hidden in plain view and ready to pounce and delete the data of the unwary. I speak of the evil magnet. Created by Gallileo from Satan’s foreskin and scattered across the world with two aims. First, to stop boats interrupting beach picnics by crashing into land unexpectedly. Second, and more importantly, to delete your data.

Carelessly leaving your floppies on a stereo speaker or too near a telephone and you would return to find nothing, nada, zip. Magnets were the bane of existence. But if you wanted to listen to Wham whilst tapping away at your BBCB or Amstrad then magnets were another necessity of life.

I’m not so floppy now. On line cloud storage in both Dropbox and Google Drive. Double bubble, double safe. And free (for now).





Quirks in your writing – what do you always include?

16 05 2014

Clive Cussler appears in each of his Dirk Pitt novels. Somewhere, for at most a page or two, a silver haired gent appears in the narrative and says or does something a bit helpful to the hero before never being seen again. It’s nice, a kind of magic in each novel. Something to watch for. Something you know is coming and you wonder how he will weave himself into the world this time.

Hitchcock loved a cameo in his films, and what will be world be if the next reboot of Star Trek doesn’t rely on one flash of light that shows a Spock moment somewhere. If we ever lose Nimoy I expect CGI will be fired up with pointy-ears a-plenty and he’ll save every one of us.

Do you have a gimmick? Something you always put into your writing which makes you smile as you type. It may be you do it just for yourself and if anyone noticed you’d deny it. Perhaps you set it as a challenge for your readers in the know.

It’s strange but it’s true that, for me, in stories if not in blogs, it is not complete until I have a Queen lyric or two somewhere in the crazy paving. Perhaps in the dialogue, perhaps in prose. Somewhere Freddie, Roger, Brian and John live again





Homophobe or Racist – which do you prefer?

18 09 2013

As a writer you have to live inside other people’s heads for much of your life. I’m a bloke, have been all my life, but I find myself inside the minds of my heroines. The creative mind sits inside someone I will never be – but women (obviously) face many of the same issues as men and I can empathise with many of the others!
In much the same way I sometimes find myself inside a bigot, a rapist, a killer – trying to understand them, trying to make their voices plausible, their actions consistent. And I don’t always know if I am doing it right!
If a bigot hates gays does it follow that he/she also has to have a problem with black people or Jews or the Welsh? If they don’t ‘have to’ be universally bigoted is there somewhere I can go to find out the correlation. Do 90% of KKK members regularly protest against vegans or is it only 5% or not correlated at all? Does the national census track this? Do Which? produce a report? Who knows these things?
I’m being deliberately flippant about this because it is all in my head. If I want to make my baddie even worse I will throw some casual racism into their dialogue because I see that as a bad thing in a person. But if I make them racist can they also be gay – do people with one unjustified subjectively dodgy bias automatically have to have more? Does a homosexual racist criminal have to hate straight people?
Sometimes I think it is better to steer away from such questions but sometimes a writer just can’t. Characters develop with a story and sometimes they aren’t consistent and sometimes, to be blunt, they turn out to be complete b**tards!





Sequel threads – lay the groundwork early

18 08 2013

Unless you are setting out on a saga of such length that you know it will take three tomes to get it finished then you are writing a one-off. You are pouring your heart and soul into this book, this tale. Giving life to the concept which came to you over a bowl of cornflakes or perhaps was years in gestation. It is a story, a one-off.

Now you’ve nearly written it, your mind has to flick forwards to life-after-novel. What next? You’ve spent so long with these characters, this situation, you must start thinking about whether you could write some more about them. The Series is born.

Before you finish your first novel you therefore should be looking for seeds to plant. Loose little threads you can pick up and develop and turn into something new. If you don’t leave these pointers and plan them out, even if not in great detail, then you will find yourself having to scratch around for a sequel.

Why give yourself the angst?

Just add a sentence or two about your hero’s mysterious sister or something deeply significant in the setting’s past. Think about which bits of your story you like most, which people have the most interesting lives you have created. 

Your editor will probably also give you some pointers but one way to help get that editor is to show you are savvy and aware of the benefits of having a customer base already bought in to your characters, already emotionally invested.

So leave a loose thread, weave a flaw in the pattern, knit one, pearl one, drop one.

Then you can enjoy finishing off your book and start to leave hints in your own blogs and on your website about where your heroine is going to next.  Give your readers an inch and they will make up the mile themselves.





Try it before you write it?

12 08 2013

Do you need to try something before you write about it? Ask Arthur C Clarke.

A flippant answer but pertinent. Did Mr C go into space, did he meet aliens, did he redraft the laws of physics. No. But should he therefore not have written about it?

We are fiction writers. It’s made up. Of course there will be elements of truth  in all our stories – human’s breathe, walk, live in houses, have sex. A plan will transport you between cities, countries or continents. But I have faith that Egypt is in North Africa even though I’ve never been there. If I had a guide book to hand and access to t’interweb I could probably write you a rollicking chase through the souks of Alexandria. But I’ve not experienced either the chase or the souk.

Did Mrs James have to try all 50-shades before she wrote about them? Does Dan Brown read latin or just have a phase book? Did A A Milne really have a hunny-loving bear telling him his thoughts?

There are areas, even in fiction, where experience is beneficial. A knowledge of anatomy is useful when writing a murder scene. Understanding of police procedure helps set up a detective story. Your first book will probably have more of your knowledge than any subsequent because you will write what you know before you really get into making everything else.

Do you need to try it before you write it? No. But you should know it. Don’t piss off your readers by putting Birmingham at the end of the M23 motorway – unless of course you’ve made a world where it really is!

Why not just make up the fact that you’ve tried it!





The synopsis

5 08 2013

If I could fit my story into a page I wouldn’t have needed the other 300+ would I? A synopsis! Bah humbug. How the hell does anyone craft a synopsis for the first time?

It’s never that hard actually. I always rant at the request but then fall back on reality.  It should be the easiest thing in the world because most authors explain their latest pet to anyone who will listen – friends, at family gatherings, at parties. Just writing down that normal patter had a synopsis ready to go in half an hour. The elevator pitch!

It wasn’t that hard – but nor was it that easy. The premise is fine, one paragraph, one edit and done. But an author never tells random people the ending. Never reveals the key twists, the characters’ difficult relationships. But a publisher only wants to read three full chapters and then expects to know how the rest of the book develops in only one page more. Completely. Utterly. Conclusively.

That’s usually more tricky. Five pages long. First edit down to four. Then three (and a half, unfortunately).

I mentioned my professional life in a previous blog. Another role with writing at its heart. Reports, reviews, succinct summaries of complex issues for the time-poor. I’d been so busy focussing on my writing life I felt like a Homer ‘Doh!’ moment was appropriate. I stopped looking at my synopsis as a book and saw it as a report to be summarised. Extraneous text vanished, pared to the bone. Whole paragraphs fell beneath my professional sword.

And there it was. A story on a page.

I noticed in my research that one agent was only expecting a paragraph of synopsis. ONE paragraph!

Bah humbug!





Post book blues

1 08 2013

It’s interesting to turn back the clock – look at the start of my career. I’d been surprised at how much emotional energy my first book had taken. Not realised how often my mind had turned to solving a plot dilemma, planning a scene, setting a character up for a future fall.

It’s the same now. So many ideas come for what to do next. But the dark places where I let creativity reign are deliberately constraining – focused on the straight and narrow of following through with a single idea. When other ideas do come they’re scribbled on pieces of paper as single sentences or bullet points and consigned to live in a drawer in my study.  My Drawer of Ideas is usually pretty full.

I do look through it occasionally. Look to see if I’ve missed a gem. One day I found a problem.

I didn’t know what half the ideas meant!

At the time “Elephant, ballet, crisis” had potential for a great children’s story (even though that’s not my usual genre). There are a couple of different obvious plots to fit the words but I know none of them are the one in mind when it was jotted down and thrust into the drawer.

Now I’m being a bit more organised. I insist on at least a page of typed A4 – those ideas need to be fleshed out enough to be able to consider taking them forward in the future. 

But back then, at the start, with my first manuscript staring at me through its newspaper duvet, I still had to focus. Forget something new – I had to cast my book to the four winds and see if any of the professionals really liked it before I could really concentrate on something really new.

Was that enough ‘really’s for you?





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.