She said it was only a quickie. The next day, some more dialogue took place…

One of my most successful author clients is currently making the switch from memoir-writing to fiction, and having had a look at it while formatting a proofreading copy for her, I noted that her style hadn’t significantly changed from ‘true-life journaling’ to ‘fiction/action comedy.’

In short, she hadn’t introduced enough dialogue. The only place that the characters were interacting, developing relationships, and building up their parts was still in her own head – which she was then ‘passing on’ to the reader in her own voice, almost as an afterthought.

It was written in what you’d call an ‘anecdotal’ style – lots of third-party reference to conversations, and descriptions of reports on third-party activity occurring away from the POV characters, but no actual conversations in receipt of these reports, or character-building reactions to any of these topics as they became known to the MC (main character) for the first time.

Here’s a couple of straightforward hints on writing dialogue for fiction, whether you are writing in first or third person.

Even in 1st person POV, you must write all of the dialogue. If someone in the novel is recounting a story or news to the protagonist, you must hear it with the character’s ears and let the reader know the character’s reaction to the news – otherwise it just sounds like you (the author) telling the audience what happened, with no actual action or reaction occurring for any of the characters. Whether they were present in the action – or not, and are just hearing about it from a third party. The reader is hearing about it for the first time too. Don’t just fob them off with a passing description of what they just heard.

For example, instead of saying, as you might in non-fiction/memoir:

It turned out that the truck had a flat. Someone had stolen the jack. They were stuck there for an hour.

You would write:

“What took them so long?” I asked, puzzled.
“They broke down!” my father exclaimed. “A flat.”
“But that takes no time at all.”
“The jack was gone. She thinks it was stolen.”

…And you would continue to show the whole conversation. Not just an introductory exchange, or then switch back to you telling the story. Let the characters unfold the story.

The first segment has no character development or character voice – it’s just your voice, the author, telling the reader instead of showing the reader. If you were writing in the third person (he/she) it would be a little more acceptable, but only if used sparingly. Never for first person. You need first person ‘ears and voice.’

It’s fine for non-fiction/memoir, when the reader is getting to know you, the author. But not for fiction – fiction demands that the author be invisible and that the characters do all the talking, even if the action being discussed did not happen to the POV character.

No matter how the news of the action reaches the POV character – telephone conversation, chance encounter, radio report – you MUST transcribe that report/exchange as dialogue. First person is no excuse – I wrote the whole of Death & the City from one POV and there was a ton of dialogue and action, including where Lara hears of action occurring away from her – I still wrote it as dialogue in scenes where she hears it as news for the first time (unless she was summarising a few incidences of a crap night at work, while on her own ruminating over her own mental health).

Whenever there is more than one person in the scene, THE DIALOGUE MUST BE WRITTEN. It doesn’t have to include every word spoken to a passing waiter, or regarding a ticket purchase for the bus. But all dialogue between recurring/important characters who are relevant to the events of the plot and outcome of the story must be shown.

With multiple POVs, including all of the dialogue is the best way for the reader to identify individual personalities as well. Otherwise, your own author voice is the predominant one, and the point of having first person/third person multiple POV is lost.

Remember it’s all about emotions and responses for the reader, especially in first person POV. Not the author telling the reader a story, sitting by an outdoor workshop campfire. It’s a play, being acted out in front of the reader. The reader is reading ‘I’ and ‘me’ in their own head – they want to know what that ‘I’ and ‘me’ is hearing, seeing, saying, tasting, smelling and feeling when they learn something for the FIRST time.

Not what the protagonist is picking over later – that’s not a story as it happens, it’s an anecdote (as in memoir writing) – of no emotional consequence to anyone.

Imagine you are writing a feature movie script. You wouldn’t write Scene One: X and Y sit in the restaurant booth and discuss their relationship. Scene Two: X and Y repaint the nursery together and discuss baby names. Scene Three… unless your movie is intended to be completely ad-libbed. You don’t ask your readers to ad-lib your novel. Even in the most artsy-fartsy literary fiction, it’s tedious when that happens (trust me, been there, read it, tried writing it, bored myself to sleep).

If your favourite author never writes the dialogue, try reading a few books by different authors. (And stop trying to emulate your favourite authors. They occasionally get things wrong as well).

You can see some further examples in an earlier post I wrote on Romance fiction writing.

New – Free on Kindle until midnight Wednesday 28 Oct, PST

3D WritingPublishing

Writing & Publishing For Yourself: The Indie Author Handbook, Self-Publishing Toolkit, and Staying Sane Survival Guide – or ‘The Adventures of an I.T. Helpdesk’ by Lisa Scullard (non-fiction/humour)

FREE on Kindle for a limited time (regular price $2.99 or equivalent) – Write a decent book, Tweet a few times, accept any spontaneous reviews graciously, and keep all of your friends…

Hi folks! Seeing as I didn’t know what I’d really done to earn recognition as a top blogger on here, a while ago I went through all of my posts on Writing and Publishing and compiled a list (see my Tutorials pages). Following that, and reading them through, I realised I had a whole lot more to add – to update – and articles elsewhere that were relevant. As well as journal entries of everything I’ve learned on the indie author rollercoaster.

I’ve now`organised them, fully-revised and updated, into this eBook above – containing my earliest advice on writing (reviewing the 27th Brussels International Film Festival, in 2000) to the latest. The eBook was was published yesterday, and I’ve just finished the final tweaks after uploading.

Here’s the blurb:

This isn’t a ‘How to sell a million copies’ or ‘How to be a New York Times bestseller’ guru session. This is not for seasoned ‘Authorpreneurs’ looking for new promotion and sales tactics. It is NOT a tried-and-tested formula for writing a blockbuster novel. And it will not tell you how to become a billionaire through exploiting your hidden USP (Unique Selling Point).

Neither is it a Zen lifestyle guide, telling you that it is simply a case of convincing the world (and yourself) that you are the world’s top author, and you will be showered with money, Nobel prizes, Oscars, Specsavers Daggers, retail sponsorship, street-value turnips, or whatever else takes your fancy.

None of the above. It’s a journal of the everyday life of a modern, under-the-radar indie author since the global self-publishing trend started, and a few confessions of advising others while being a Useful Technical Person to Have Around…

It is also a book for beginners, giving tutorials and case studies – on the subjects of inspiration, motivation, genre, legal hurdles, research, editing, and identifying your ideal market audience – along with the rocket science of formatting your documents, embedding illustrations, creating and linking to external content (such as audio and video), uploading them, and some gentle cautionary advice on publishing issues and promotions.

There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be revealing examples made (and for readers with browser-enabled tablets or PC/phone reading apps, links to working samples of multimedia content).

Above all, it’s designed to save you time, hassle (and ultimately, save you money) when joining the indie author phenomenon.

Lisa Scullard went online one day in 2014 to find she was suddenly (and without warning) a WordPress-promoted top blogger in Reader on the subject of ‘Writing & Blogging’ – and promptly understood the full meaning of the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This subsequent book is an organised compilation of relevant blog posts, tutorials, articles, experimental book trailers and journal entries made over the years, covering the topics of writing, researching, editing, publishing and promotion. It has been an undertaking of mass rewrites, edits, revisions, expositions and updates, and some keyboard-crunching efforts at formatting, in order to justify such an unprecedented amount of recognition.

…And it’s FREE until midnight PST, Wednesday 28th October 2015, on Kindle worldwide. Grab it while you can.

It’s already available in print on Lulu directly (postage £2.99 basic shipping) and should appear on Amazon in paperback form over the next few days.

Last updated: 14 November, 01.30 GMT – The latest updated version is now live. If you’ve downloaded your copy already, make sure it’s automatically synched to the newest version. You can use the Kindle Customer Services ‘Contact Us’ by chat/email method to request it to be re-delivered free to your app/tablet if it doesn’t update automatically from your reader settings. You’re always entitled to request the newest revision of an ebook for free, even after a paid purchase.

One of my supporting examples of fiction is also available FREE on Kindle for the same time period, for reference – Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition. (Also worldwide).

3D DATC CTTC cover

I hope you all have a great weekend, and for those of you off school and college, enjoy half-term break (and happy forthcoming Halloween) 🙂

L xxx

The ‘Writing Process’ blog hop

Jill Pennington, the entrepreneur true-life author of Diary of a Single Parent Abroad asked me on FB the other day if I had a blog, and if so, would I mind following up her guest post on Tottie Limejuice’s blogspot as the next author to answer the same three questions as her?


After telling her yes, I have maybe eight blog sites scattered around, and hadn’t done this blog hop thing yet on any of them, I said sure, why not. Pretty much everyone else I know has done one already, so I’m probably the last one ever. (Hooray, I hear you all cry).

Anyway, without further adon’ts, let’s get this mess over and done with, so we can all move on with our lives and never speak of this again… 🙂

Question one: What are you working on?

I’m working on a Toshiba M400 tablet laptop upgraded to Windows 7. I bought it off ebay. Highly recommended 🙂 Oh, the real answer? :/ More Zombie of Oz books for YA, more Lauren Boutain romance for the definitely adult, some sci-fi (including designing an open-source planetary setting that anyone can write about), some more parody/steampunk, and some more introspective stuff, which may or may never see the Kindle-fuelled light of day.

Question two: Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s there, in my head. If I don’t write it down as a creative outlet, it tends to manifest itself in other ways. Life would be unbearable with all those zombies turning up in reality. Me and Junior yell ‘Money should be falling from the sky!’ at least five times a day, because our nonsense creative conversation gets echoed back to us from the TV or by something occurring in real life. So writing down the nonsense is the safest place for it to go. Still waiting for the money to fall from the sky. That’s the real joke 🙂

Question three: How does your writing process work?

I switch off my ‘external monitoring’ and transcribe what I see and hear in my head. But I don’t need soundproofing or isolation to switch off my outside awareness. I like background noise, or TV, even doing laundry at the same time. Writing is just part of my normal life, and has been since I was 7 years old. I was doing it to kill time while waiting to make friends, did that, then later to kill time while waiting to have my first relationship, and I’m still waiting, so still basically killing time. There’s nothing really technical or methodical about it. I don’t need to ‘get into’ author mode, or put on a writing hat or anything. When I was younger I would have loved to grow up and be Barbara Cartland wafting around in a pink dressing-gown writing a book every day after lunch, now I don’t see being an author as having an idealised image attached to it. I can write for fun, and still be me, especially as all I’m doing for a living now is writing, since I’ve given up freelance IT support due to sports injuries that I’m awaiting surgery and rehabilitation for, so there’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove about it either.

I find I’m a more interesting person when I’m not talking about my writing, so I’m going to end there before I bore myself to sleep 🙂

I haven’t asked anyone if they want to be tagged, because they’ve all done the godforsaken deed already, so I’ll just recommend a couple of authors I know, for their indie inspiration:

Robert Rankin – also on Facebook

Sophie Neville – also on Facebook

You should check out what they’re up to, and how they market themselves and their work. Everyone’s different, but even though these two have a genuine hook they can exploit, they’re still working tirelessly to get out there in the real world and meet the public to promote their writing, rather than just banging away on social media.

Enough already – time for bed!

🙂 xxx

Opening Doors Inwards and Going Outside: Writing v. Parkour

My blog exchange piece for Dan Holloway, on an unexpected pairing of pursuits, posted this week 🙂 x

dan holloway

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience of endurance rowing training, and the effect it has on my creative life. As I wrote, I found myself thinking about more and more of the creative people I know
(and those, most famously of course Haruki Murakami, about whom I know) who do something similar, training hard (I won’t indulge in transferene and say obsessively) at a particular kind of individual, repeetitive, non-competitive, endurance based physical activity. And I realised I really wanted to find out how it affected them.

And so I decided I’d love to have those people write for me about their experience. I am delighted to start with Lisa Scullard. Like many of my writing friends, I met Lisa on the writers’ site Authonomy about 5 years ago. We have since met in person several times and I have had the privilege of hosting…

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Back to basics: So you want to write a novel?

How Not to Write a Novel

First – read this…

I’ve realised that a lot of my posts preach to the choir. Lots of in-jokes about indie writers, the behaviour of authors and reviewers on Amazon, and how not to make a twat of yourself online or while sending in submissions. Not to mention how much money you won’t be making, and the joys of sharing your book launch date with anything in the region of 10,000 other writers publishing their books on the same day.

But supposing you’re fresh to the blank page, taunted by ideas waiting to take on a form, and in love with the idea of holding your own book in your hands or gazing at it on your electronic tablet? (Trust me, if anyone’s going to be holding it in awe, you’ll be that person).

So I’m going to go all Delia Smith on you, and start at the beginning.

Starting with the simple egg – your idea, before it has hatched.

The Idea:

You start with an idea. But what genre is it? It can be anything, but it will need a description when you publish or submit, even if it’s only ‘general fiction’.

If it’s not your own idea, and another author is already minted by it, it’s only legal when it’s a ‘parody’. Make sure it has some decent jokes in, change the key names of characters and locations (viz, Barry Trotter), don’t write their exact prose, storylines, or copy their cover/title/author name verbatim, and you won’t be likely to get sued. Parodies are HUGELY popular. If you’re going to parody something that’s already massive, such as Harry Potter or Fifty… (of anything), make sure you Google search all of the “(Original title) parody/parodies” that are already published first. Even self-published authors can get stroppy if you write the same thing. Some of them are also lawyers in their spare time.

Writing parody is a good exercise if you’re new to writing, or have previously only written fan-fiction. You can’t publish fan-fiction with an ISBN or sell it online (that way litigation lies), but you can publish parody. Some territories are still sensitive about it, so the more you make it your own story, the better.

‘Memoirs’ are another opener onto first-time writing. But be aware that to avoid slaps from friends and family, and visits to Jeremy Kyle, it’s best to change all the names in your diary, and possibly your author name too. Change a few more things, then a few more, and hey presto – instant fiction, inspired by real life. But don’t publish something as ‘true-life’ when it clearly isn’t. That imaginary gryphon will be demanded as evidence.

Play with your idea for a while. Write down a list of “what ifs”. What if this happened, what if that happened? What if one of your characters turned out to be XXX? What if it was set in an asylum rather than a school? (Don’t use that one, it’s the plot of Girl, Interrupted and the movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sucker Punch, among many others). Keep playing until you’ve come up with the most exciting and original version of your initial idea that you can think of.

N.B: If you are writing a children’s story, avoid any themes that involve strange creatures, hairy or otherwise, hiding under their beds or turning up in their bedrooms and talking to them. Seriously. It’s just wrong. Go and have a serious chat to yourself, and start again. If you’re going to be a trusted author for young readers, any bodily hair envy and bedroom loneliness needs to be put aside while you write. These things have a way of turning up inappropriately in plotlines and passages written by the amateur author.

The audience:

It’s a good time to begin thinking about your potential audience (that’s assuming it isn’t ultimately limited only to yourself). What sort of lifestyle does your future reader have? What are their interests? (Also assuming that their primary interest isn’t to be in competition with you, feverishly typing away at their hors d’ouevre – sorry, latest ouverture/magnum opus – in their bedroom, wishing that they had a hairy chest and some good company).

Remember that if you are hoping to write with authority on any given subject, you may be in luck – and your first unknown reader will be that very expert you dream of being. So make your research the best it can possibly be. Try not to quote directly from Wikipedia, though. Especially not in speeches made by Churchill, or adventurers describing the landscape and population of Peru. You don’t want your first ever review announcing that you have quite clearly never set a heathen foot in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where the imaginary Mafia underbelly of your Victorian-era thriller is set. Yeah – better do some research first…

Characterisation vs. caricature:

Again, this where you have to make a distinction between general fiction, and parody.

If your hero is a time-travelling sock-puppet salesman assisted by various young Earthlings shanghaied on a mission to save the Universe repeatedly from the threat of laser-firing wheelie-bins powered by small gelatinous blobs, via the magical depths of his flying Portaloo – especially if his name is Doctor Why (more of a medical query than a name) – enjoy your own joke, and try again.

Or perhaps he is a 19th Century sleuth, Padlock Homes, who plays the cello, freebases Brylcreem, and stalks the streets of London in a Burberry Pack-a-Mac and matching sou’wester hat, haunted by the crimes of his nemesis Monsanto, to the ongoing befuddlement of of his male PA/secretary, Dr. Whatsapp.

We all love a quirky character. As well as making your character original (see above – or not), try not to give yours so many quirks that they are effectively crippled the moment they have to interact with anything. Whether it’s a bottle-opener, reading the mail, having a shower, talking to a shop assistant, or touching anything in the fridge.

Not every passing butterfly has to bring back six pages of traumatic (or idyllic) recall to the mind of your character. For a story to happen, your role-players need to have some functions that do not involve thoughts of a dead past love or an irrational fear of toilet paper.

You now have all you need to get writing.

Seriously – this is as good a time to start as any. Titles can come later. Synopsis can come later. Draft chapter plans if you want, or make prompt cards for certain events or plot points if you like. But the sooner you start, with your key ideas and key characters, the sooner you’ll find out if it’s an idea you want to run with, or something you lose interest in quickly, and drop. If it’s the latter, you don’t want thirty years’ worth of preparation to go to waste. Thirty minutes is long enough to have a story idea and a character idea ready in your head – and if you’re already an expert in any chosen subject matter, you don’t even need to do the essential research, because it’s already inside you.

Jump in with both feet – and remember: Innovate* don’t imitate**

*Unless it’s a parody…

**Credited to various, including Apple 😉

Let me know how you get on – and if I can answer any questions, I’ll do it in the next post.

L xxx

‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons’ in the headlines

Here’s a success story example of a multimedia ebook I formatted and also helped to edit, which was released onto an unsuspecting audience last week and reached coverage in the national press.

As well as formatting the ebook itself, my work included editing the behind-the-scenes footage for inclusion in the text, and making the book trailer that appears online. It was featured in the Telegraph article last Friday.

I’ve prepared the print proof files for ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons” – currently awaiting publisher feedback – and my next job in the meantime is to start work on a feature screenplay based on the crew’s shenanigans.

Very much looking forward to seeing where things go with that 🙂

Lisa xxx

Sophie Neville

The Times Sat 23 Nov 2013

The Times. What author would not be thrilled to have their ebook profiled in a Saturday feature article? But look at the headline. I shall never live it down. Far from being scandalous, my story is appropriate reading for any age group.

Richard Kay’s piece in the Daily Mail seems to have sparked off quite a bush fire. A News journalist from the Telegraph rang, as mentioned in my last post. Before I knew it, there was an over-excited headline on the internet

I was told-off by our Church Warden, who then handed me a clipping from the Saturday Telegraph, which read: ‘Swallows and Amazons a debauched adventure’. I didn’t dare look in the tabloids.

I was worried that I would be asked to step down as President of The Arthur Ransome Society but some of the members think it’s hilarious. The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have been busy thinking up…

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We are officially post-Apocalyptic…

At the first annual ‘1066 Walk of the Dead’ Hastings zombie walk…

Welcome to my personal 2012 round-up…

Two eye operations (resolving four years of eye infections and one year of sleep deprivation), three live zombie events, one Book Fair, one new 83-chapter parody novel blogged all the way to completion and published, four first dates, fifty pages of non-explicit quotes from my older books compared to prose and scenes in the Fifty Shades trilogy analysed very kindly by the legal office of Random House (who initially stated their author had never heard of my books, but investigated anyway, to assure me later that the list of similarities must be coincidental), the world didn’t end (and neither did the superstitions of everyone who believed they saved it), a very recent and encouraging response from the BIG romance publisher, DS-10 said she doesn’t need a dad around because watching Jeremy Clarkson and the lads on Top Gear tells her everything she needs to know, new cousins, family weddings, fantastic reunions, one stone and two dress sizes dropped, an unprecedented variety of editing and formatting jobs (from true-life books to cultural thrillers to creative self-help therapy to more zombies), accidentally deleting Sophie Neville’s blogger image source file for Funnily Enough four days before Christmas while trying to clean up unused duplicate images on Google+ (doh!), managed to pass yet another year without either having sex or watching any soap operas / reality TV / celebrity game shows, one charity book contributed to and associated book trailer made (New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan), around 165 Youtube clips and mash-up tunes shared on this blog, from Reaps007 to movieclips (I don’t have a problem, really), meeting Olympic gold multi-medallist Ben Ainslie and remembering what it feels like to be star-struck on that occasion, around 1000 sunset photographs / 370 zombie photographs / 240 family photographs / 7 cat photographs / 5 hedgehog photographs and 1 photograph of my car (not by a speed camera, I have to say)…

Wishing you all a happy and merry and peaceful post-Mayan-Apocalypse future! 🙂 xxxxx

The Youtube trailer for ‘New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan’ shot and edited by yours truly…

Funnily Enough…

The Kindle bestseller Funnily Enough, by the awesome Sophie Neville 🙂

Here’s how the latest bestseller happened to find its way onto Kindle in the first place…

In spring 2011, a conventional English rose of a lady popped down to her local photocopy and printer outlet, to have one of her screenplays bound. The intrepid Sophie Neville, actress, writer, charity-founder, explorer of darkest Africa, had written among other things waiting in her bottom drawer, a true-life, historical wartime romance based in Tanzania. She started to chat about it to the helpful young man at the counter.

The young man said, “My sister writes as well. Screenplays and books. She’s just published some on Amazon.”

Intrigued, Sophie scribbled out her telephone number and directions to her house.

These subsequently found their way to me, early one morning, when my Mum came over to feed her cat, who has adopted my front garden as his permanent pied-a-terre. My Mum told me I have to ring this woman, who is a local film producer and wants to see my screenplay.

Having finally found Sophie’s house, which wasn’t easy (Sophie usually draws far better maps, but in this case I ended up at the ferry port first), we met for the first time. Her house at the time was more of a work-in-progress than her writing. She had just gutted out the bijou manor-style house for a renovation, and plastic was still covering the structure where the conservatory would be. She and her husband were camped out in the annexe for the duration.

We had a cup of tea and a rather nice chat. It turned out that Sophie was the Sophie Neville who played ‘Titty’ from Swallows and Amazons, which I had probably seen at some point, between The Great Escape and The Railway Children in distant holiday-TV memory. And she was interested in reading my screenplay about bouncers, because she had a friend in the business who was developing some concept for TV about female personal security. Having been in security work as my main job for some time previously, including before and after SIA licensing, she wanted to know what my insights were.

So we did a read swap. She went off to read Heavy Duty and some first proof copies of Death & The City, and I went off to read Makorongo’s War. I quite enjoyed it. Not my usual subject matter, but it was good writing, and I could see it working well as a film.

In turn, Sophie liked Heavy Duty, and wanted to see more material. She also loved Death & The City, and was a useful spare pair of eyes to have when proof-reading. She started talking about me making supporting trailers for my script, and asking if I would write a screenplay of the novel. But having done producing myself previously, I did say I’d only work on further adaptation of my work if a company optioned it, and I was paid to do so as part of a contractual agreement. I’ve had a go in my own time at playing around with this sort of thing, but not at the request of anyone else. If someone else wants it for their own future purposes, they can pay for it 😉

Anyway, back to Sophie. Sophie had only one old out-of-date website, for her artwork, and an IMdB page. What concerned her was that if Will Smith was handed a copy of Makorongo, and he Googled her, he’d find a hundred other Sophie Nevilles, mostly young ladies in schoolgirl fancy dress on Facebook.

I remember the first time I sat at her computer, and she Googled herself on Images. She pointed at all these grinning photographs of young women on birthdays and hen nights, and asked me: “How do I get rid of all these girls, who are appearing here instead of me?”

Ahem… okay, well, I just write fiction about hit-men, I don’t think she could afford that sort of intervention… it’s all a bit Terminator when you think about it. But that’s not what she meant, of course. She wanted to have her photographs appearing in the top matches. The problem was, she only had about three photographs of herself online. So, we started talking about WordPress, and Twitter, and Youtube, and blog pages, where she could add images that would start appearing in a Google search – they can’t appear if they don’t exist in cyber-space.

And she also wanted to publish her diaries and letters, which she’d had typed up for some time, and edited, and even at one point had an agent some years ago, until he passed away – hopefully not the subject of Googling with extreme prejudice. So I introduced her to the wonders of KDP, Createspace, Lulu, OpenOffice, and Authonomy.

It took a while, as I found Sophie likes the socialising, networking and marketing part more than the technical – so it was me ranting at the computer and scanner and various uploaders. Having taken her through the process of setting up pages on WordPress, she entered her bio, some photographs, and some links to her Facebook and Twitter and IMdB, and then asked me how you got people to look at it.

“Well, you have to start writing posts on it.”

“I did one. And those girls are still appearing in Google Images. How do I remove them?”

*Cough* Okay. So I explained about continuing to add posts and images to a WordPress blog, essentially what a blog entails, with interesting anecdotes, stuff you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Basically, more posts = more matches to your name in Google. You can’t just ‘have other matches removed’ – as if they’re something you can delete from a folder in your own hard drive – but you can add more of your own.

And then she’d take me to look at the main house (still in progress) and ask me where the best place to put a stove island and an extractor hood was. Usually in the kitchen, I find.

So she started writing about being in Swallows and Amazons. And not just a little – she had a lot to write about. She’d kept her diaries from 1973, and also had her father’s own behind-the-scenes footage which could be edited into Youtube clips. Her memory is so good, within a short time followers were flocking to read about the filming that took place on Coniston Water, in real boats, and where the cast and crew hung out, what they got up to, and what else they went on to work in. Half of the technical crew seem to have won Oscars since, working on films like The King’s Speech.

But I have to say, the best stuff doesn’t make it onto the blog. The best stuff comes out while she’s sitting next to me, maybe while I’m cutting footage of the crew eating lunch, and suddenly I’ll hear about who wasn’t really there as part of ‘Wardrobe’ at all. A bit of extra-curricular seamstressing, maybe… I recall her laughing and pointing at a clip saying “How did he get hold of a boat? He was in charge of the chemical toilet. He told all the girls on the set that he was the producer!”

Shortly, due to the matches she was creating by her regular posts and media, more matches for Sophie began appearing in Google searches, and she stopped worrying about what Will Smith would think. The occasional Facebook girl would pop up, but not enough to ask me any more awkwardly-worded questions about displacing them 🙂

In the meantime, we were formatting Funnily Enough, her diary from 1991, when she arrived home from South Africa to work for the BBC, and abruptly collapsed with CFS. But instead of a mis-lit about illness, it’s a British romp of true-life, about an English upper-class family all working in television and film (including their famous pets), while their adult daughter returns home to bed for ten months, unable to do much more than watch the pratfalls of everyone passing through, praying for God to see her through to health and sanity again.

I loved it, and I’m neither a true-life or religious reader. My first novel was about teenage blackmailers and Satanists, but Sophie and I share the same sense of the satirical, so I could see immediately why she enjoyed Death & The City on reading the first draft.

There were a few typographical issues and edits, but it was pretty much ready to publish, once the file was set up with her illustrations included (colour for the Kindle, if your app is on a colour screen). I would occasionally query things, like for example, a dog’s rather questionable name…

“Was ‘Dogger’ really that dog’s name?”

“Yes, why?”

“Do you know what ‘dogging’ means…?”

“No, what?”

And then I would tell her. And she would laugh. “Oooh – we have to leave it in!”

Anywho… Things were going pretty well – she’d done some promotions over Christmas, and had a book launch at Ashton House. Sales of print versions through direct were going well, and the ebook trickled along too.

Then, as the reviews started to come in, other feedback followed it, usually from her sisters, and old friends. “We were wondering… would you mind changing the name of…” It seems that although they’d all read it ten years ago, and said yes to it all, now they were getting older, some sort of decorum had entered their lives. And although yes, they’d love to be associated with a successful book, perhaps certain things could be moved to a respectful arm’s length, when facing the church and pony club circuit.

These requests seemed to be turning up daily for about two months. I’d arrive at Sophie’s having just uploaded and approved a new version, and she’d greet me with “More changes, I’m afraid… we need to change ‘Seargent’ to ‘Field-Marshall’, and So-and-So wants their neighbour’s house name taken out because they’re trying to sell it…” Nothing to do with the fact that Fred West was doing a lot of driveways and patios around there at the time it was written, honest…

So I’d argue for some things to stay in, especially when one reading group of her sister’s, who didn’t know Sophie, were apparently only interested in gossip about her family and not in the fact it was Sophie’s diary, and wanted her parts of it edited out entirely. I argued that I’m about as far away from a spiritual Christian memoir fan as it’s possible to be (sitting here at home right now listening to Korn’s slash metal Greatest Hits Vol.1, wearing a Hell Bunny t-shirt, and wondering why I’m lacking Pringles nearby while the lawn wants mowing and the cats want biscuits) and I loved it. And it’s Sophie’s memoir. She’s entitled to be in it…

The problems arose from these multiple edits when the PDF converter got tired of all the shuffling around of various words, and started to drop images out in the print copy conversion, or add blank pages, where the carefully-laid-out pages were no longer justified. We had some revised proofs back with missing pictures, or text obliterated by images that had shunted. Lulu’s customer services gave us a great tip about downloading doPDF, which I used in conjunction with OpenOffice to export PDFs more reliably. I made a point of doing a page-by-page check of every single new version of the PDFs on the screen in front of me before uploading them. When having to do this with new edits every few days until the furore calmed down, it was frustrating. Sophie was of the opinion that she should be aiming to please everyone she knew, or even didn’t know, and although it’s sweet and admirable, none of those people know the work that she’s already put in. Or that if you take out a paragraph, every image after it has jumped, and nothing is where you last had it. Blank spaces appearing and page numbers obliterated and everything. It all has to be re-justified and/or re-sized manually.

It also meant editing the ebook file separately in parallel, as it’s a completely different format to a print PDF. And although there was no problem with the pagination in that, as a Kindle book is a continuous file, the images liked to give themselves a random aspect ratio occasionally, or jump off-centre, so those would have to be adjusted manually too.

…I got my own back though. You’ll have to read the sequel to see it, but all these name-changes and place-name changes led me to be, shall we say, creative – in the naming of a certain village 😉 Sophie did give me the go-ahead, but still…!

Most of these edits arrived as we were in the middle of formatting the sequel, Ride the Wings of Morning – Sophie’s letters to and from Africa, when she escaped back there to work on horseback safaris, and immediately recovered from her illness. So some of these little changes had to be made in that document as well. Again, the minor edits screwed up a lot of the pagination. We’d done a perfectly good upload and got some proofs back, and then the teeny tiny changes were necessary again. The PDF was perfect, but the uploader didn’t want to know – it would crawl to the end of the ‘uploaded’ bar, and then freeze – you couldn’t move onto the next step, and the document never transferred into her online files.

Due to the much larger number of illustrations, the file by this time for the paperback of RtWoM was ten times bigger than Funnily Enough, at 111MB. After seven attempts at uploading the new revision onto Sophie’s print-on-demand page, yesterday I downloaded an FTP client access program and copied the file directly onto their server. It took three times as long, but arrived in one piece in her file list, and could then be imported into the new revision of her book, which is now public. Any more changes will have to get past me 😉

The last thing I found in the ebooks, completely by chance and just before the London Book Fair 2012 promotion, was that the endnotes didn’t convert into links on KDP. I was checking it after loading it onto Sophie’s Android tablet, and realised that the automatic superscripted endnote links were dud. They’d appear at the end of the book, but the mutual hyperlinks set automatically by the document in Word were lost. No idea why. It meant you couldn’t navigate them. So I went through and bookmarked them all manually, inserting hyperlinks that did work. Just in time for the promo on Kindle to start last weekend.

Well, Sophie was at home on Facebook and Twitter, happily sharing some links to her London Book Fair freebie. I was probably asleep until lunchtime, crawled out of bed as usual, looked at my own Book Fair freebie promo for Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition and decided it could get on by itself as it had already had 30 downloads in my sleep, and I’d Tweet when my laptop could be bothered to load Twitter. I looked at Sophie’s Funnily Enough, and it was ZOOMING up the UK charts.

Over the next four days, Funnily Enough reached #2 in all categories on Amazon UK Kindle Free, #1 in Humour, #1 in Parenting & Families, and #1 in Self-Help. And after the London Book Fair promo ended, it’s still selling, and already closing in on the top 100 paid, having cut a swathe back into the top ten of its categories.

If you want a taste of the classic, upper-crust British sense of humour at its best, the type from Ealing comedy to Fawlty Towers, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Funnily Enough and Ride the Wings of Morning, both by Sophie Neville, are available on Kindle worldwide.

L xxx 🙂

The Valentine’s Day Review: CBGB Was My High School, by GK Stritch

This is such an amazing find for a contemporary memoir. Having set aside time to absorb it, I found I devoured the whole thing on a long train journey.
Meet young GK, a soft-spoken, well-brought-up girl, who wanted more than anything to study well and become an artist. But thwarted academically early on, she and her sisters (and friends, and sometimes her more insular brother) venture out of New Jersey and into Manhattan at nights, to experience the lifestyle of the arts and music set instead – and unwittingly, through becoming regulars in the Bowery scene of CBGB and bringing a touch of sober class to everyone they meet, find themselves in some of the most pivotal parts of rock history of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Ramones live at CBGB, 1977 “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”

From touring with The Ramones, to running from the amorous attentions of soon-to-be famous college professors and ‘the short one from Hall & Oates’, to giving celebrity facials and waxing Cher – GK was never a ‘wannabe’ but always someone with her own mind, and knowledge of what was the right way to live and what was destructive, even while in the middle of it herself.
The Police perform live at CBGB, for their first time in New York (excerpt)
And once she finds her own New York ‘apartment’ observing herself growing up even as others seemed unable to detach themselves… She experienced everything the heart of Manhattan had to offer – the glamour, the danger, the poverty, the privileges, the wildness, the incredible opportunities, the generosity, and the bereavements – before the artist in herself finally won her over. She finds her own true role models at last, once she acknowledges her own great need for academia.
The multi-faceted Vincent Gallo, whom GK knew as a friend and plate-washer in Manhattan – his film “Buffalo 66” would later become her & her husband’s preferred Valentine’s Day viewing.
Some of her friends succeeded – became stars of stage and screen – while others succumbed or sadly expired, and even at times when GK seemed almost lost and unlucky in her early and sometimes toxic relationships, a higher consciousness of her own always seemed to emerge to snatch her back from those jaws.

Joan Jett at CBGB (excerpt)

…GK was no shrinking violet waiting to be swamped, but a lady I think few she encountered would realise was one whose inner spark would lead her out of the dark times, and onto the path of true personal fulfilment.

Well-read, poetic, historic, and excitingly insightful in parts, this is a real account of the Manhattan scene as it should be remembered.

Patti Smith has the final word with “Elegie” at CBGB on October 15th, 2006 – the end of an era

The famous set are portrayed as real people the author knew and interacted with, as part of her own social landscape. Although in awe of some, her observations are a tonic to the pages of the trashy magazines of today. A truly literary rock and roll memoir.

GK Stritch photographed by Suzanne DeChillo for The New York Times, January 14th, 2012. Images provided by the author, and used here with permission.