Saturday, 27 December 2014

End of year round up for 2014

I can't believe it. It always seems to come around so fast. One minute, it's the promising start to an exciting new year. The next minute, it's all over. How could another year have slipped past so quickly?

At this time of year, it's always a good thing to look back on the writing goals I set myself to see how I went.

All things considered, my expectations should be pretty low. It's been an exhausting year for a number of reasons, both on the personal and work fronts. I'm not even sure how I've managed to find any time for writing at all.

And yet...

When I look back on the goals I set myself at the start of the year, I've actually done pretty well. Here's a quick summary:

1. Publishing
  • I finished and published the third of my Neville Lansdowne stories - Scrawling. It took longer than I originally planned, but the extra effort was worth it. I think it's definitely the best of the Neville stories.
  • Thanks to the good people at Evolved Publishing, I was extremely excited to publish my first picture book, Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle. The feedback I've gotten from young readers has been amazing.
  • I had my novel Magnus Opum republished by the good people at Booktrope Publishing. Great to see Magnus in print at last.
  • Am now in a fairly advanced stage of editing for my next novel, a comic detective thriller titled A Fate Worse than Death.
2. Writing
  • I completed several drafts of my YA/MG novel (tentative title Throught the Flame) to the point where I believe it's not far away from being publisher ready.
  • I set myself the goal of writing two new potential picture book texts, and I was able to meet it. The titles for these two new stories are Bella and the Blue Genie and Rory and the Rainbow Bird.
  • As of this week, I officially made a (very small) start on my long awaited dinosaur story (tentatively titled Dinosaurs).
Not a bad effort for 12 months. I guess now it's time to start thinking about those goals for 2015.

Hope your 2014 was also a good one.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Calling the good Doctor

Today is one of those days when I feel like delving back into my history.

I'm thinking about way back when I was a kid, and we had regular visits from a good Doctor. And just who was that Doctor, I hear you ask. The answer is easy to find when you swap the words around. I'm talking about Doctor Who.

I loved Doctor Who when I was a kid. I loved all the monsters - the Cybermen and Sontarans and Zygons and especially the Daleks (exterminate, exterminate!) I loved the resourcefulness of the Doctor, and how he was always able to beat the monsters using his brains and wits. I loved the imagination and creativity. I loved the cliffhanger endings, and how you always had to go back the next night to see how everything turned out.

It didn't matter that the costumes were pretty shonky and the sets looked like they were about to fall apart. The stories were so strong and the characters so great that you could easily suspend disbelief and get completely sucked into whichever amazing environment the TARDIS had taken the Doctor into.

I find it kind of amazing and more than a little bit amusing to think that these days Doctor Who is a huge international success. Back then, it seemed like something a bit special. Something for us British Commonwealth people to enjoy. Sure, the Yanks had Star Trek and Star Wars and Lost in Space and all those others. But we had Doctor Who and that was the best show of the lot. It was our own special little secret.

For a long time, the good Doctor disappeared from our screens, but he remained in my memory and my heart. And then he came back, bigger and better than ever. More complicated stories and a way bigger special effects budget. Suddenly, it wasn't just a local thing. Doctor Who became a big international hit.

I still like watching the new Doctor Who on and off, though I can't say I'm dedicated like I was as a kid. People can have their David Tennant or Matt Smith but I'm still a Tom Baker kind of person. And I like to think that a bit of the creativity and ingenuity of the episodes I used to watch rubbed off on my writing in some way.

On top of my computer at work, I have a little Dalek and a little TARDIS, just to remind me about that person I used to be, and maybe still am - just a little bit.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Egomania vs insecurity

Sometimes I feel like being a writer is like swinging on a very large swing.

Up and down I go. Up and down. One minute, I'm high up in the air, the next I'm barely above the ground. And then up I go again. Up and down. Up and down.

When I'm up, I'm the greatest thing ever. I write the greatest stories in the history of storywriting. Everybody in the world will want to read them. They will change people's lives. They could even change the whole world.

Then, before I've even had a chance to think about it, I find myself right back down again. What am I thinking? What makes me think that my stories are so great? Why would anybody ever want to read them? What even gives me the right to think about putting them out anyway? After all, there are already so many stories out there, mostly written by writers who are far more proficient than I am. How presumptuous am I to even think about putting myself in the same league as them.

And then, before I completely give up in despair, I'm right back up again, marvelling at the wonder of what I've been able to create.

It's a pretty odd sort of world, swinging between such extremes of egomania and insecurity, but in a funny kind of way, I suppose they're both essential to an effective writer.

The egomania is essential because without it, what would keep you writing? You need to feel that you have something to say that other people are going to want to read. Otherwise, what's the point of the exercise in the first place?

As for the insecurity, it helps to realise that maybe what you're writing isn't the most super-fabulous thing in existence. That way, you're more likely to spend the time trying to improve it - to iron out errors and fix it up so it shines in every possible way.

So that's why I reckon swinging between egomania and insecurity are perfectly normal and perfectly healthy for writers. I guess the secret is not to be overwhelmed by one or the other - not to get caught up with thinking you're the greatest thing since Dickens or Tolstoy (or whoever else rings your bells) and also not to fall in an abject heap.

So, whether you're right up at the top or right down at the bottom, hope you have a happy and productive week.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I like to find myself deep within a story

People often talk about the immersive effect of stories on readers. How once you've been captured by the magic of a story, it takes you to a different place, as if you're actually there.

It's absolutely true, and as someone who has always been a passionate book person, it's always been one of my very favourite things about reading.

It's interesting though that not much seems to be said about the immersive effect of a story on a writer.

When you think about it, it makes sense to consider that we writers tend to get far more immersed in our stories than any readers. After all, we spend more time engaging with them. As a reader I might spend a few weeks, maybe a month or two at most on a particular story. But as a writer, I might spend years working on a story from start to finish.

Remember that the work of creating a story doesn't just involve the time spent at a computer writing the actual words. Before I actually sit down to put the words onto a page, I've often already done quite a bit of pre-planning - developing plots or characters or themes in my head, or mapping out the structure. There have been times when I've literally had a story in my mind for years before I get started on the actual writing.

I love how immersed I get while I'm writing a story. I love getting to know the places and the people, and feeling like I'm a part of the action that's occurring. But it isn't just a one-time event. The way I write a story, I'll often put it away for a while between edits, sometimes for over a year. Then, when I come back to it, I find myself totally re-immersed, back in a world of my own creation. Sometimes I'm working on more than one story concurrently, and I find myself being immersed in multiple worlds simultaneously.

It's always a bit of a sad feeling when the book is finally out. Sure I can go back and read it again, but it's never quite the same level of immersion as when you're actually creating the story and wrestling with the ways to make it right. I guess that's the time to hand it over to the wider world, and let all the other people out there immerse themselves in their own way.

In the meantime, I'll just have to find another world to immerse myself in.