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.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

I think I've finally crashed into a wall

It was bound to happen. Despite all of my best plans, I knew I was never going to be able to avoid it.

For the last couple of years, I've been so organised. I've kept a constant backlog of potential topics for this blog. This meant that whenever I sat down to post my latest entry, I always had a broad range of topics to choose from. None of this "oh no, what am I going to write about this week?" I was prepared and organised - totally on top of everything. Sometimes, I even got to the point where I was as much as two months ahead of myself.

Except that it couldn't last.

Gradually, over the last couple of months, I've seen that list of topics shrinking. Occasionally, I'd somehow manage to pull another topic out of my hat, giving me another week's grace. But those were the exceptions. Over most of the last few weeks, that list of topics has been whittled away until I finally found myself in my current state. So now I have to face the brutal reality.

I have absolutely nothing to write about today.

How could this have happened? I've always prided myself on my organisation, and my ability to be fully prepared for all eventualities. How could I have let myself slip to such a sorry state? How could I have remained a spectator, watching rather than acting as my list of blog topics dwindled into nothingness?

Whatever the case, I'm in big trouble. I need to think of a blog topic and I need to think of it quickly.And given the state of my mind at the moment, that's probably as easy as shooting an elephant with a rubber band.

Hang on, what's going on? My blog is full of words. How on earth did that happen? Here I am, one second lamenting the lack of inspiration, the next second finding that somehow a blog post has magically appeared.

Oh well. I suppose I've staved off disaster for another week. Tune in next week to see if I've actually figured out whether I have something to say.

Thunderclap alert

Before I sign out and start desperately thinking of my next topic, I just want to alert all my fans out there (or should it be, fan out there) about my Thunderclap campaign. It's simple and painless. All you have to do is go to and select one (or more) of the support options available.

What that means is that on the selected day (December 14) an update will appear on your FB timeline or a tweet on your Twitter to support my special sale for Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle.

Costs nothing. Takes less than a minute. I'd love your support.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Leaving the zeitgeist for somebody else

Don't you love that word, zeitgeist?

To be honest, I'm never quite sure if I've pronounced it correctly. Is it more like zitegist or zeetgeest? Or zitegeest or zeetgiste? Oh well, as long as I don't have to say it. I know how to write it. And I think I have a rough idea of how to use it.

It always seems to be like a compliment that people pay to writers. Especially writers who are new and hip and happening. I suppose it must be one of the biggest accolades that any up-and-coming writer could receive - that they've really captured the spirit of our times in their writing - they've really captured the zeitgeist.

It's a funny kind of thing. Who decides what the spirit of our times is in the first place? Who has the faintest idea what this zeitgeist thingy actually is? I know I don't. And I'm not even sure that I want to try.

I sometimes feel like I'm working a bit out of time. That my stories exist outside the era that I'm working in, beyond any particularly modern influences. I know that's not true. We're all influenced by the here and now, and the things that are happening around us. But I often feel like I'm in a bit of a bubble, protected from some of the dominant aspects of culture that seem to be a big deal for most other people.

Do I have a problem with that? Not at all. Maybe I'm never going to be acclaimed as the "it now" writer who is capturing the spirit of the times, but so what? Times change. Spirits change. It's easy to be left behind. I like to think I'm creating stories with more of a timeless nature. Hopefully, people will be able to come back to them years later and not find them dated or linked to a specific time.

So I'm off now to write another story which, I hope, will live on for a long time after me. As for capturing the zeitgeist? Well, I'm more than happy to leave that to somebody else.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Only for kids? I never can tell

I really enjoy writing stories for children.

It's great to write stories for an audience that is endlessly imaginative. An audience that is more than happy to suspend belief, and take in the most amazing and outlandish events. An audience that doesn't have that jaded, "read it all before" feeling that can be an issue for adult audiences.

I also love working with illustrators. It's an amazing feeling to see the characters and events in a book come to life before your eyes. Characters and events that I've often seen only vaguely inside my mind, now taking on a life of their own.

It's funny though, because when I first began writing, I never saw myself as a creator of children's tales. My main influences were more about humour, particularly via writers such as Douglas Adams and the Monty Python crew. Sure, some of their stuff could be seen as suitable for younger audiences, but a lot of it definitely isn't.

I certainly didn't begin with a conscious effort to write children's stories. My first stories were meant purely to be stories that I hoped would make people laugh. It was only during a short story writing class, some years after I'd first began writing, that I realised I might be good at producing stories for a younger audience, purely by accident.

I'd submitted a story about a king who didn't get any respect. Nobody listened to him and everyone else in the palace walked all over him. I liked the humour of the role reversal, where someone who should have been the centre of attention and reverence ended up getting none (though I have to admit that more than a bit of it was based on my own experiences). Of course, a story where the main character gets walked over all the time would be pretty boring after a while, so I made sure that my king found his own ways to enjoy himself.

I was quite amazed when I got feedback from the class. Everyone was saying what a wonderful children's story I'd written. I even got compared to A.A. Milne. People actually seemed quite touched by the story.

And here I was thinking I'd just written a funny story. I had no idea that it might be suitable as a children's story. But it did make me think. Maybe writing for children was something I could do.

Now some things have changed. I definitely think of myself as a writer of children's stories (amongst many other things). But other things are still the same. Ultimately, to me it's mainly about the story. Is it for kids? Is it for adults? I'm never completely sure.

I just want to write the best stories I can.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

New Awesome Indies anthology - Awesome Allshorts

Last week, I told you about the changes the Awesome Indies people have made to their website. This week I have some more exciting news from this group which is a great supporter of independent authors.

Today marks the official release day of the very first Awesome Indies short story anthology, titled Awesome Allshorts. 21 different writers have all contributed stories. And guess what. One of those writers is me.

21 different stories means lots of variety and lots of different voices, so surely there'll be something for everyone. And the best bit is, because these are independent authors, there are sure to be fun surprises beyond the tightly-defined genre boundaries of the legacy publishing world.

So once again, I'd like to offer a big thanks to Tahlia Newland and her team for the work in preparing this anthology, and also for considering that something written by little ole me was considered as suitable company for some of the other fine writers featured.

So (as a great Australian once said) do yourself a favour and check out the Awesome Allshorts. You can find information on where to buy an ecopy at the Awesome Indies website, and it will appear in paperback form shortly.

And even better. If you buy a copy today, the Awesome Indies have a special offer where you can pick up a free copy of an Awesome Indies certified novel. Check out all the details of the special offer here.

Hope you enjoy. I know I did.