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Turns out I've been forgetting to cross post my POD blog posts here when putting them up over at my website. Oops. I'll post them up sometime over the weekend.

"Paying for Death" Published

I managed to forget that my flash story "Paying for Death" was published by Sorcerous Signals. Things have been a little bust lately, what with broken bones (not mine!) and overtime at the day job. Here's a link!

"You're sure you want to do this?"

That was it. No greeting, no discussion. Mirri nodded and swallowed around the lump in
her throat, proffering a lock of golden hair tied with a thread.

Learning to Plot

I've always been a pantser, and love writing in that white-hot frenzy of inspiration that can come of this method of writing. However, it can result in a lot of words wasted as you end up excising scenes that aren't necessary, or cutting out waffle that was only needed to writ into the story in the first place. Case in point: the first draft of The Reflection of Memory came in a 17k. The printed version is a much more manageable 10k. That's a cut of around 40% of the original wordcount.

I've become a lot more risk averse as I've got older, and wasting time on unnecessary words is one of the things I'm trying to avoid. For a while this has manifested as a fear of writing anything at all, because there's not always a way to tell before you start if you're writing a dud. That's not healthy though, or productive if you actually want to write. So now I'm teaching myself how to plot. Trying to, anyway.

My first port of call is Evan Marshall's Novel Writing (called, I think, The Marshall Plan in the US). He has a handy breakdown of how many scenes and characters you should be thinking to put in a book of a particular length, how to structure the middle to keep it moving, and how to finish off. Some of what he writes makes perfect sense to me, for example where to add your "surprises" and plot twists to keep things interesting. However he thinks that there should be 5 viewpoint characters in a 120k novel (the length I'm provisionally aiming for), which seems like a lot to me. Especially since, in the 24 sections you get to start a novel at that length, the secondary characters come in at sections six, eight, ten, and twelve. That doesn't seem like a lot of space to get things moving. And you're supposed to plant the seeds of each one in the previous sections, but what if you're writing one of those novels with separate characters and plotlines that eventually come together?

It seems like this book is a good place to start, but I'm not convinced it will let me tell the story I want to. The next part is to dig into Jeff Vandermeer's Wonderbook, and all those random writing books I loaded onto my Kindle and haven't read yet. Maybe if I take the bits I like from each of them and shake I'll come up with a method of plotting that works for me.

Swanwick 66 - Day 7

What is there to say about day seven? I got up too early, packed the last of my things in a hurry, and was just in time for breakfast. On the Friday it's not the leisurely affair it is the rest of the week - those of us on the coach have to finish in time to get ourselves and our luggage on board. There isn't quite enough time to eat and say goodbye to everyone.

It seems like, once we get to the station, everyone becomes strangers again. We all end up on different platforms. Those lucky enough to have a cafe and a wait sit and chat, but I ended up perched on the platform trying to decide if I'd rather be too hot with my jumper on or too cold without it.

On the train I discovered my mp3 player, loaded with several hours of music, had decided not to hold its charge over the week. I was too tired to read and ended up dozing, since if I missed my station I could easily get a train from where this one terminated. I slept through the arrival of the trolley with coffee, which didn't improve my mood.

On the second train I made the effort to stay awake, since if I missed my stop I could end up somewhere very awkward to get back from. I read some of David Crystal's By Hook or By Crook, which I'd meant to start at Derby but couldn't keep my eyes open for, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

At home there was unpacking and laundry to do. Although there's a weekend between the end of Swanwick and returning to work for most of us, it's not enough. I wasn't the only one posting on Facebook about 11+ hours of sleep on Friday night!

Now the trick is to keep the momentum going, through the commitment of day job, family,
housework, and the need to eat food that doesn't come out of a microwave. I heard the same advice three times at Swanwick so it must be true: persistence is key; write for yourself; trust your instincts. Let's hope that's enough to keep me going until next year.

Swanwick 66 - Day 6

Day six always starts off slightly subdued for me. By then I'm tired, and facing the prospect of going home the following day. A week of no cooking, washing up, or laundry only reminds me very strongly how much I dislike them!

The short courses for the day were Simon Hall's crime writing course, children's/YA fiction with Steve Hartley, marketing e-books, or the astro-characterisation course of my train-buddy Judy Hall. I'd decided early on that I was taking the marketing course, although by Thursday breakfast I was starting to lean in favour of crime writing. In the end common sense won out - after all, I don't write crime fiction - and I went to the potentially more useful course.

It turned out to be the only course all week that I regretted taking. We started out by discussing finding a niche, which is all very well and good but sometimes there just isn't a new one worth digging into - or if there is it might not be something you want to write in. I felt it was getting into write for the market and not for yourself territory, which was completely at odds with what I'd been learning on the Ways of Seeing course. It also happens to be at odds with what I believe in. The next thing we learned was that you should offer free stuff on your website to harvest email addresses and send a newsletter even if the topic ("I have a novel out!") is nothing to do with the reason they signed up in the first place. Since I hate spam emails and being advertised at, I decided this was very much not for me and not to bother with the second part of the course.

In the final part of Ways of Seeing, I realised I'd forgotten to do my homework. We discussed blocks to creative, and how to work through them. Fear seemed to be a large part of this, which made me wonder what it is that I'm afraid of that's got me blocked currently. Certainly I'm finding it difficult to sit down and work on anything. Maybe I need to add having another chat with my inspiration and inner critic to my timeline!

Instead of the marketing course, I went to part two of the crime writing course. As expected, it was fantastic. I figured out a short version of what I'd missed in part one (the importance of first impressions, place, and characters with motivations and backstory), and learned about plot and the importance of persistence.

I wandered away despondent, as it was the last course on offer. After a quick tea break it was back to the hall for the AGM, where I failed to win a free place in the raffle. The following slot on the programme is labelled Time For You, and is my traditional time to pack - since I don't want to do it after the disco or early the following morning.

There was no speaker on the final evening, instead we had a version of "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" which revealed that no one at Swanwick had a clue how to play the kazoo. After that was the traditional last night disco, which kept a number of us up until just after midnight. When the music stopped that was the signal that Swanwick was truly over for another year, with nothing between me and the trip home but not enough sleep and a hurried breakfast.

Swanwick 66 - Day 5

Back on the courses again for day five, and I was starting to feel a bit glum, partly because of tiredness and partly because there were only two days remaining. The real world had encroached a bit with unfortunate news from home, which brought returning all that much closer.

For the short course I considered both the public speaking and Wild Words courses, comedy sketch writing and working with the media being very much not for me. Wild Words seemed designed to complement the Ways of Seeing course, only using an outdoor setting. However it looked like it was going to rain, and I decided to look at a new skill rather than building on what I was already doing in the novel course.

Public speaking was in two parts: the first on the technical side; the second on getting over the fear of doing it in the first place. It took some of the mystery out of it, certainly, but I'm not sure if it will be enough as I get nervous just speaking to my department at work as a group!

Back in Ways of Seeing, we looked at trusting our instincts and listening to hunches. We did another guided visualisation, this time to speak to our inner critic, and as a group seemed to find it easier. A number of people found it looked like a parent, some had monsters, and one even found it looked like himself. At the end, we were given another homework to do, which involved speaking to a character from our work.

The evening speakers were David and Hilary Crystal. They came to my first Swanwick in 2011, where David was a speaker and his enthusiasm was catching. This time they both gave a presentation on their new book, Wordsmiths and Warriors, which is a linguistic tour of the UK. I had a setting idea for a story during the talk, although I'm not sure what to do with it. I also discovered how creepy it is when someone says "Y Y U R" to an audience of around 200 people, who respond in unison "Too wise you are, too wise you be. I see you are too wise for me." I felt like I was witnessing the triggering of a cell of sleeper assassins!

A friend and I were out of the hall fast enough to be first in the queue for a signed book, although as Wordsmiths and Warriors is in hardback I settled for a more portable paperback. Afterwards we went to the Ceilidh, which is Scottish dancing, but a technical hitch pushed the start so late I gave up and went for a more reasonable 11.30pm bedtime!

Swanwick 66 - Day 4

Day four at Swanwick is traditionally the "day off", although all that really means is that there are no classes. In the morning we had speakers on "Bookselling in the Digital Age" and a fantastic presentation from a member of the Derbyshire Police Forensics Team on how forensics are used to solve cases. After this is the "Page to Stage" workshop, where the plays selected prior to the school are workshopped ready for performance the following day. Alongside all this runs the Procrastination Free Day, during which willing participants are locked in a room to write and only let out for meals and tea breaks.

I went to the speakers, and then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in a mostly empty bar and reading.

After dinner we had BBC journalist and crime writer Simon Hall, who was one of the best speakers I've seen at Swanwick. He told lots of anecdotes, which are likely to become Swanwick in-jokes as you really had to be there. Afterwards was the poetry open mike, which I'd been considering skipping due to tiredness. In the end I was glad I went since there were some excellent performances, including one from Topwriter (young writers who are given a subsidised place) Rufus Lunn, which showed why he deserved his place on the Topwrite scheme. He certainly gave some of the older and more established poets a run for their money!

After the poetry I ended up in the bar, having neon-pen lightsaber fights and talking until - you guessed it - far too late!

Swanwick 66 - Day 3

I somehow managed to drag myself to breakfast after the previous late night, although not everyone I was up with managed it. It's on days like that the Swanwick breakfast - cereal, pastries, followed by cooked - is particularly appreciated.

The short courses on offer were writing for The Peoples' Friend, solving plot problems using business skills, e-books, and Manifesting Your Goals (neuro linguistic programming). Since I don't intend to write for the People's Friend and I already know the basics of e-books, it was a choice between the other two - both of which looked useful. In the end I went for the NLP course since it seemed to offer more on the getting-butt-in-chair front. All the advice on plotting in the world won't help if I can't make myself sit down to write!

In the course we discussed how the brain filters what is important to what you're doing at the time - if you're focused on something, that's what it will see. It will delete things that aren't important, which is why you can respond to someone while you're reading or writing and have no idea a moment later what they said. It will also distort things, and give them meaning where there is none. In order to make this work for you, you need to move past your goal (finish a book) to the outcome of your goal (sell a million copies, get a big house and car) - the unconscious needs to know exactly where it's going, because otherwise it chooses the quickest route to gratification (eg Candy Crush!).  This will also allow it to see other methods of getting there, rather than being too fixated on the goal.

We also looked at how to deal with limiting beliefs, and  setting out a timeline for achieving goals. Both of these are something I need to work on, although I suspect I need to set up a timeline for setting up my timeline!

This course had a little bit of a crossover with the Ways of Seeing course, since this was also about harnessing the subconscious and unconscious minds (these are not the same thing). Xanthe told us about the different parts of the brain and how the "fight or flight" instinct shuts down conscious thought. This is why it can be so difficult to think when confronted with something (even something actually non-threatening like public-speaking) that frightens us. The way to reverse this is do do something that requires conscious thought - puzzles, talking, reciting a poem.  Xanthe then led us on a guided visualisation to talk to our inspiration, with varying results. Our homework: have another conversation later, writing with our dominant hand for ourselves and our non-dominant hand for our inspiration. I tried not to read anything into it when twenty minutes later I shut my dominant hand in a door...

Due to the late night, I skipped the workshop again to catch up on sleep. I then followed it up with another late night playing card games. You'd think I'd learn!

Swanwick 66 - Days 1 & 2

I'm having a brief hiatus from my POD posts, because I spent the last week at Swanwick Writers' Summer School. As always I'm a week late blogging about it, as I don't take a laptop with me. I know some who do, but they tend to travel by car which makes it slightly easier. Every year I swear I'll have a netbook by the following year, so I can take it with me, and every year I don't because I don't really need one.

This year, as always, began with a lengthy train journey. In an odd coincidence I ended up sitting next to first-time Swanwicker Judy Hall, who was teaching our Thursday course on Astro-Characterisation (using astrology to create characters). We alternated between chatting, reading, and drinking coffee, before arriving at Derby station and grabbing yet more coffee and hanging out with other early-arrivals while we waited for the coach.

My Swanwick routine begins with locating my room and unpacking my case. I like to think it signals to my brain that I'm settling in for the week. I managed to time it extremely badly this year, as I emerged to find I was supposed to have been at the Chairman's Welcome fifteen minutes previously. Instead I waited in the bar area until it had finished and I could catch up with old friends.

The evening speaker was the historian Christopher Lee, who gave the advice that poetry should be told not recited. This applies to stories as well. There were various events on afterwards, but after a day of travel I was tired and called it a night.

Sunday is the first full day of Swanwick. There was a choice of short courses in writing for competitions, playwriting, novel editing, and creating fantasy worlds. I went to the latter, where there was lively debate on examples of worldbuilding, from J.R.R. Tolkien to G.R.R. Martin, and we were given a handy list of things we might want to consider when creating our own worlds.

I'd chosen to do the novel-writing course Ways of Seeing as my specialist course option, since I'm not into writing scripts or memoirs, and I took the poetry course the last two years. The other option was a short story course run by Della Galton, which was a definite contender for my time. In the end I went for the novel course as it promised a deeper look at what makes writers writers - a similar short course has been run by tutor Xanthe Wells most of the other years I've been, but it's always clashed with something else. This year I decided to take the hint and get on with it.

During the first session we covered the iceberg of publishing/professional skills/practical skills, which is the bit you can see, and the "personal wealth" of creativity, confidence, intuition, and the subconscious, which are the parts of the writer that lie below the waterline. The course overall was about getting those parts to work for you, and not always fighting against them, which is something I need to figure out.

After the second part of the short course (and a much needed tea break) there were workshops, new on the programme for this year. I had meant to go to the one of Scrivener, but I was still tired from travel so I used the gap until dinner to nap instead.

Got talking at dinner and missed the start of the evening speaker, but I'd arranged to play a roleplaying game called Fiasco with some friends after so we ended up setting that up instead. We played until 1am, when the game was resolved with only one of our characters coming out of it well. I went to bed dreading how I was going to feel in the morning after only 6 hours' sleep...

Print on Demand: Front Matter

I was going to do a post (or possibly several) on formatting next, but it occurred to me that the front matter needs to go in your manuscript first. This is the information you usually see in traditionally published books: title page, dedication, copyright page, and contents page.

The title page is exactly that, a page with the title and author's name a couple of lines below, both centred, and that's all it needs. Insert a page break, and on the next page (the back of the title page) goes the copyright information, which should look something like this:

Copyright © YEAR by A.N. Author

Cover image © Source / Artist (this is needed if you use a stock image for your cover)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

Printed by (or whoever you choose)

First Edition (or second, or third...)

(ISBN number, if you have one)

Needless to say, I'm not a lawyer and nor do I play one in a movie. Check out your copyright boilerplate before you put it in the book.

Insert another page break. This page is where you put the dedication if you have one. You might want to check if that extra page will push up the cost of the book. Centre it so it looks  tidy, then insert two page breaks. Two might seem odd, but the page after the dedication needs to be blank so the contents page starts on the right-hand (recto) page. If you don't have a dedication page, the contents page goes here instead (if you have one, which if you're writing a novel you might not). Allow a page for this, it can be changed later if needs be.

Insert one more page break, then after this a section break. This will give you another blank page after the contents page, then the
text of your manuscript. You may not have a dedication or contents page at all, but the break just before your text starts must be a section break. This will matter when it comes to inserting page numbers and headers or footers later.

And now that everything's in place, we can get onto formatting.

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October 2014



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