Tag Archives: authoring annals

Authoring Annals 5 – Using Flashback – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles #BrainfluffAuthoringAnnals5 #MantivoreWarrior #TheArcadianChronicles #AmWriting

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I was pleased that some of you took the time to let me know you found last week’s article interesting, thank you! So I thought I’d share a bit more of my writing process while working on my latest novel, Mantivore Warrior.

One of the structural issues I needed to overcome in this one, is that in both Mantivore Dreams and Mantivore Prey, the main protagonist is Kyrillia, who features on the cover of both books, while this book is told from the viewpoint of Jessob. Readers who read Mantivore Prey will have already encountered Jessob, but they won’t know much about him as he’s a minor character, even though he plays a pivotal role in one of the main action scenes. So while readers got to know Kyrillia organically as they were absorbing the world in Mantivore Dreams, now the pacing has been established over the previous two books, I can’t slow it down again just to enable folks to learn all about Jessob. Especially as they are already familiar with the other two major characters, Felina Keeper and Vrox, who are also driving the main narrative forward. This left me with the problem of how to give readers a detailed insight into Jessob’s strengths and vulnerabilities without resorting to excruciating dialogue scenes along the lines of, “Well, as you know, Vrox…”, or tedious info-dumps.

I decided to use a technique I’ve never before used – an extended flashback from the point in Jessob’s life where he first encounters mantivores. While I have used brief flashback scenes in Mantivore Dreams to show aspects of Vrox’s past, this is the first time I’ve ever interrupted the narrative timeline in a flashback that continues over a number of chapters. I’ve been wary of using this device to date. Done well, extended flashback can add a layer of characterisation and background that gives impact and purpose to the ongoing story. But if I get it wrong, it has the potential to turn into an irritating interruption to my story that I started with a lot of tension and a climactic scene. I risk losing all that momentum to provide the reader with details of Jessob’s backstory.

I decided it’s worth the risk, because Jessob’s journey is every bit as dramatic as the ongoing storyline and I felt the fractured flashbacks I used in Mantivore Dreams simply wouldn’t work. Those occur near the end of the book, when my readers are familiar with the characters and the world and fully aware of what the stakes are. Chopping up the narrative so early in Mantivore Warrior, when readers are still working out who is doing what to whom would simply be too confusing, especially as my writing style means I don’t tend to stop and explain much along the way.

At present, I’m about a third of the way through this flashback. Is it working? It’s a question that continually haunts me as I’m writing it. I think so – but I’ll be unable to tell until I’ve completed the narrative timeline and had a chance to evaluate its success within the overall story arc. Once again, it comes down to finishing the draft and trusting my instincts. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted…

Shoot for the Moon 2018 Challenge – How Did I Do? #Brainfluffblog #AuthorAnnals4

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This is now an annual event – in the dying days of the year, my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson and I sit down together and set ourselves targets for the coming year. The theory is that in aiming for the insanely unrealistic, we’ll achieve more than if we were more cautious in our goalsetting – did this work for me during 2018?
• Rewrite Miranda’s Tempest and submit it to the agent who expressed an interest in it
Well, I did the rewrite, submitted the manuscript to an editor in June and got the feedback. By then, I was in the throes of rewriting The Arcadian Chronicles, which I thought wouldn’t take all that long. However, it has. It is still doing so. Which means that Miranda’s Tempest is still waiting to be sorted out. I am hoping to get to it during the summer, However, during the long break from it, I have had a major epiphany regarding the beginning. A – duh! moment where I can’t believe I didn’t take this approach before. It should improve the pacing, make the reader immediately aware of what’s at stake and start the story with a bang.

• Organise new covers for Running Out of Space and Dying for Space
It helps when your best writing buddy also happens to be an awesome cover designer – I was so grateful when Mhairi agreed to help me out and the general response has been nothing but positive since I released the books with the new covers.

• Rewrite, edit and publish Breathing Space
Yes – this was all achieved, so that Breathing Space now completes The Sunblinded Trilogy, after being published on 18th July. I have also set up the story so that Lizzy is poised to start a new chapter in her life, once I start writing the crime series featuring her next series of adventures.

• Rewrite, edit and publish Mantivore Preys and Mantivore Freed
This is another casualty of my poor writing performance during the latter end of the year. I’m now nearly halfway through Mantivore Preys, which I more or less started on schedule – and then started wading through glue as the story graunched from one dead-end to another. At last my writing is gathering momentum again, so I’m hoping to complete the book by the end of February. With luck and a following wind, I’ll also have the first draft of Mantivore Freed finished by the end of the summer. Fingers crossed… I have the covers ready for these books and am really looking forward to getting them completed and published.

• Release paperback editions for Running Out of Space, Dying for Space and Breathing Space
I have released Running Out of Space as a paperback and had hoped to have Dying for Space done before the end of the year. However, it didn’t happen – again due to my illness. Hopefully, I’ll have Dying for Space and Breathing Space both available in paperback format by the end of February.

• Write the first draft of Bloodless
No, I didn’t get close. My health became a real issue from the time I returned from my lovely writing retreat. Even before then, I wasn’t happy with the quality of my writing which had lost its bounce and energy. It turns out I was the one without any bounce and only now, since my diagnosis of hypertension, am I starting to feel like my old self as the medication is starting to take effect.

• Learn to market my books
Himself and I attended a marketing conference at the early part of the year and came away a tad overwhelmed, but enthusiastic. With Mhairi’s help, I plunged into the rarefied world of Amazon ads and felt quite pleased with my progress for a few months – before the algorithm abruptly changed and nothing was working any more. It takes a lot of time and energy I simply don’t have to keep on top of these developments, so I’ve decided to put the Marketing aspect on the back-burner until I have more books available to make it more economically viable.

• Read and review at least 100 books on my blog
I read 162 books during the year and published 124 reviews on the blog, although I have a few more written that will now have to wait until the coming year to see the light of day. I always love blogging and discussing books, but during the year I had to cut back from posting daily to about four times a week once my energy diminished as I became unwell. I’m not rushing to resume my daily posts, as I think one of my issues has been overwork.

• Continue teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook
Since Northbrook merged with Brighton Metropolitan, the Adult and Community Learning Department has had a new lease of life and during 2018, I was delighted to be able to run an extra session every week. The start of the new academic year in September saw my 10th anniversary teaching Creative Writing, which I still can’t quite believe.

• Continue teaching Tim
I will be continuing to teach Tim for the rest of the year, while he also attends college three days a week and still needs ongoing support. I cannot quite believe how far he’s come – it’s marvellous to see how well he is coping in a course for neuro-typical students, as he’s busy making new friends and extending his musical skills.

• Continue getting fitter
This was an epic fail. I was enjoying my Pilates and Fitstep classes, but as the year wore on I found it increasingly difficult to keep my attendance regular and finally, regretfully, I gave up first the Fitstep class and then the Pilates class as my energy drained away. I am hoping to resume my Pilates classes next week. Wish me luck!

As you can see, it’s been a mixed year. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with the results, given how my illness impacted my productivity and I’m hoping to put in place some lifestyle changes to help me stay healthy during the coming year. I have already set my targets for my Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2019 – I will be sharing them on the blog at the end of January. In the meantime, have a peaceful, healthy year, everyone – hopefully with lots of wonderful books to get lost in. Thank you all for your kind comments, likes and visits – even during the dark times when I couldn’t summon up the energy to post, I always found the kindness and good will evident within our blogging community a continual source of encouragement.

#Authoring Annals – Bristolcon 2018 #Brainfluffblogauthoringannals-3 #Bristolcon2018Report

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This is the first conference I’ve attended in the past two years. But I was determined not to miss this year’s Bristolcon for the simple reason is that it’s my favourite. It’s known as The Friendly Con and with good reason – the first year I came along on my own, I was invited to join one of the groups sitting in the bar by the lovely Jaine Fenn.

This year I wasn’t on my own – my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson stayed over on Friday night, so on Saturday morning we could catch a 6-something train to Fareham, where we changed for Bristol. While the GWR train was flipping cold, at least everything was running on time and we arrived at Temple Meads station just after 10, all set to consume Second Breakfast at our favourite pasty shop before braving the bitterly cold wind for the walk to the conference hotel.

We hadn’t even got sufficiently organised to decide which panels to attend, so naturally we needed to swing by the bar to sit down and sort this out. I was delighted to see Juliet McKenna and congratulate her on the wonderfulness that is The Green Man’s Heir. I’m thrilled to report there is another book in this series being written – if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, this is one of my favourite books of the year. I was also able to catch up with Sarah Ash, another wonderful author whose writing I love.

Sarah was taking part in one of the excellent panels I attended Here Be Dragons. And Yokai. And Tokoloshe. And Kupua… which discussed the pros and cons of using spirits and mythology from other cultures – when does that become cultural appropriation? Sarah’s expertise lies in Japanese mythology, including anime and manga, while Zoe Burgess-Foreman is very knowledgeable about other Asian mythological creatures in addition to also being expert in Japanese culture. The other members of the panel included Nick Hembury and Steve McHugh, while the discussion was ably moderated by Jessica Rydill. The consensus was that whenever using ancient gods or spirits, ensure you are respectful of the context and any cultural issues – Steve aptly summed it up with the phrase, ‘Don’t be a dick about it.’

The second panel I attended was also great fun – Ben Jeapes moderated a discussion about the panellists’ most hated cliché in SFF writing, which would be then voted on by the audience and consigned to Room 101 – another cliché, perhaps? The cliché that overwhelmingly got voted into Room 101 was Jo Hall’s distaste for beautiful protagonists and ugly baddies. The beautification of Hester in the upcoming film Mortal Engines was cited as an example of this insidious trend, given that her face is horrifically scarred in the books.

The final panel I saw was Writing the Non-Human which brought together Su Haddrell, who moderated, Cheryl Morgan, Gareth L. Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith and Dev Agarwal to discuss what approaches they used when writing from other species’ viewpoints. It was fascinating to see the widely differing methods these experienced and capable authors adopted when working on their non-human characters. Everyone agreed, though, that you need to have a good grasp of the environment from which they originate and a clear idea of the character and how it responds to the unfolding situation within your story.

The closing ceremony was typically warm and celebratory where the Guests of Honour Jo Hall, Dave Hutchinson and Andrew Skilleter were applauded, along with the date for next year’s special 10th Anniversary Bristolcon.

As for books – I was very restrained, only purchasing Joel Cornah’s The Sky Slayer over and above the two books in my goody bag, partly because I truly am trying to be more sensible about my out-of-control book buying habit and partly because I had a long train journey ahead of me and books are heavy… The other two I acquired were K.M. Alford’s Atlantic and the Game of Time and Tracing the Shadow by Sarah Ash.

During the afternoon in the bar, I had a long chat with Mags L. Halliday on the necessity of evolving a con-clone for the next conference. We discussed the feasibility of a device that splits you into at least one other copy, though I personally think two would be ideal – just after you pick up your goody bag and then re-absorbs your cloned copies before you reel home. I was also thrilled to see the wonderful Sophie Tallis, someone else who warmly welcomed me to my first Bristolcon, – as well as Jo Hall, who I haven’t spoken to for far too long. And it was also great to be able to have a word with Gaie Sebold and Janet Edwards.

But as Mhairi and I trudged back to our hotel when we finally called it a night, I was aware that if only I had my clone alongside, I could also have managed to meet up with Sammy Smith, Jessica Rydill and Rosie Oliver among others – as well as attend those panels I missed, such as The City As Protagonist and Spaceship Top Trumps as well as Sophie’s silk painting workshop. Maybe a cloning device will be available next year – the need is surely great at all Cons, but particularly at Bristolcon – the Friendly Con.

AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – WRITING RETREAT #Brainfluffauthorannals

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a writing retreat with some of my writing group members. I’ve been part of this group now for nearly ten years and we try to meet up twice a month over tea and cake every other Wednesday evening to share each other’s work and provide constructive, but honest criticism.

This retreat was at a converted barn with 8 double bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Six of us were there for most of the week, while three others joined us for part of the week. The barn was tucked away down winding single-track roads etched into the red West Country earth at a farm on Exmoor near the hamlet of Roadwater. The weather was fabulous, so we’d aim to write from 9.30 am, stop for lunch at 1 pm and go for a walk at between 4-4.30 pm, though I only broke off a couple of days for the walk. And then we generally stopped writing at about 6 pm and took turns to prepare the wonderful meals organised and provisioned by Sarah Palmer, who not only organised the whole thing, but happens to be a fabulous cook. After clearing up, we sat around the table and read our work aloud to each other and gained valuable feedback. We then played quizzes or chatted until going to bed, before repeating the whole process again the next day. Bliss…

My bedroom view was across the lawns to the main farmhouse, with a large lavender bush right outside the door opening onto the gardens, which was open most afternoons because otherwise it was too hot. It was so lovely – this was where I chose to write

The internet connection was practically non-existent in the barn, apart from the occasional text and if we wanted to make a phone call we had to climb the hill at the back of the property. I found this a huge advantage, though others weren’t so impressed, but it meant that there was no question of messing around on the internet in displacement activities – it was all about the writing.

It’s been such a treat to have spent that amount of time as a writer – the part that often gets tucked away until the end of a busy day, or squeezed between other chores – that I’m very aware just how very lucky I’ve been to have such a wonderful opportunity. But did I make the most of it? Nope. I made some fundamental mistakes that meant I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.

The biggest problem was my lack of preparation. During the last year, I’ve published a space opera adventure The Sunblinded trilogy, which meant I spent hours in the head of my main protagonist, Lizzy and immersed in the world. I don’t know what made me think that I’d be able to seamlessly switch into Kyrillia’s viewpoint in Mantivore Preys and absorb all the details, backstories and most importantly of all – the speech rhythms and dialect differences of Arcadia without at least rereading the first book, Mantivore Dreams. But I didn’t and I paid the price. While Felina, the protagonist who made a takeover bid for the book during my last retreat, had poured from my fingertips, Kyrillia didn’t. The going was slow and I kept having to break off to check up on various details.

That said, having read several scenes to the group, who gave me suitable feedback, I’ve returned from Somerset with a stronger start to the book. And while I was there, I also had an epiphany regarding Miranda’s Tempest which is currently on the backburner, until the Arcadian trilogy is finished.

But the biggest advantage was to get a break from my everyday life in a setting that made me feel happy and peaceful, with the mental space to realise that my current work rate simply isn’t sustainable. I need more sleep and fewer hours in front of the computer – I suspect my raised blood pressure is part of that problem, too. So now I’m back home, I hoping to put in place some major changes… watch this space!

#Authoring Annals – Writing in Heaven and Plunging into Uncertainty Hell… #BrainfluffblogAuthoringAnnals-1 #SJHigbeeWritinginHeaven

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I’m conscious that over the last year, I’ve been writing a lot of reviews and not much else other than my weekly roundups. As you’ll see from the subtitle of the blog, the original intention was to provide more variety – and as I am not only a keen reader and reviewer, but also a writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as a Creative Writing tutor at Brighton Metropolitan College, I think it’s high time I wrote a bit more about my other activities.

At the end of last month, my sister-in-law booked a seaside flat as a writing getaway and invited me to join her, as there was a spare bedroom. I’d never been to Bexhill-on-Sea before, despite it being not all that far along the coast. I joined her on Bank Holiday Monday, expecting the town to be heaving with holidaymakers keen to catch the last of the glorious summer by the sea. However, it wasn’t all that busy. While there were certainly tourists around, overall this town had a peaceful serenity that seemed more in keeping with the early half of the last century, to the extent that the two of us felt perfectly safe wandering around the streets on our own late at night.

As for the flat, it was fabulous. The highlight was the room we ended up writing in – a hexagonal room with views on every wall, so that as we wrote, we had panoramic views of the sea. It was magical – it’s always been on my bucket list to write in a room overlooking the sea. And here I was! I managed to get 16,000 words written on the second book of my trilogy featuring my telepathic alien, Vrox. I rewrote and edited the first book, Mantivore Dreams, earlier in the year and was delighted at how smoothly it went.

When I started the second book, Mantivore Prey, I was confident that it, too, would give me no trouble. I was wrong… I love my main character, Felina Keeper. She is in charge of keeping the village’s produce safe from hungry pests, thieving individuals and selling on anything left over from the quota set by The Council for much-needed cash. The village is perched on the edge of The Arids, where rainfall is scarce and the heat of the two suns is fierce. Trouble is, Felina, who is loud, bossy and very overbearing has marched in and taken over the novel. The plotting and pacing have been stomped flat under those hobnailed sandals of hers and I need to nip in quick when she isn’t looking and wrest control back.

Kyrillia, who is the main protagonist in the first book, needs to get a look in, I think. So, I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start this one again… I’d love to be one of those indie authors who can happily write two books plus a year, but right now it seems a distant dream. I’m hoping that I can use some of those words I wrote while staying at Bexhill – it was such a happy, creative time. But if not, then I’ll chalk this one up to experience. Favourite characters need to kept on a very short leash!