Black Friday Weekend Freebies – Death & The City

Hope you’ve all had a good week so far and are planning a chilled-out weekend (let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you’re already chilling out compared to those folk stampeding around the shops).

I’ve put two Kindle ebook freebies up for the next 4 days – Friday 27th to Monday 30th November inclusive (until midnight Monday, Pacific time).

These are the books I learned the most by writing, back in 2008 – what not to do, genre ambiguity, what to say when I felt like it, whether it was bad writing or not – but mainly, how to stay sane 🙂 Editing was an unknown practise to me back then, so these are the long versions. Luckily, I did know how to proofread!

Considering all the ranting I do and advice I give, If you’d like the evidence that we all start somewhere, you can find it here:

3D DATC1 cover

Death & The City: Book One on Amazon

3D DATC2 cover

Death & The City: Book Two on Amazon

The books were originally one massive book, which I split in half down the middle – no reason except for print cost at the first time of publishing. Another lesson – in the digital age – that’s not necessary either, although I do still love my print books.

Here’s the blurb:

Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator… and Connor Reeves, also not his real name – how he came by his, is less clear… Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.

When her head office try to set her up in a team with a wingman, her main concern is they’re trying to manufacture a weakness that they can manipulate her with – not to mention once they agree on a working colleague, Pest-Control-sniper-turned-police-officer Connor, that he might be quite manipulative too…

Hope you all have a very happy and safe holiday weekend xx

New Year’s resolution – the importance of still writing for yourself

Happy new year! I hope you’re all looking forward to 2015, like I am, and to the opportunities and changes it may bring to your creativity.

This was originally going to be a tutorial post, but I didn’t want to overload your New Year’s Eve inboxes and blog readers with something you’ll need a hot water bottle and supply of endless coffee to get through… so I’ll try and keep it on the shorter side 🙂

In a nutshell, when you set out to write for an audience, a target market, remember there’s still time (and a need) to continue to write and be creative for yourself alone.

Whether it’s therapy, or relaxation, or just for entertainment. Whether it’s recording your dreams or memories, or making plans for the future. You need to keep that part of your writing alive – the part that inspired you to write with a purpose in the first place – because nothing tries to suck the joy out of writing more than constantly thinking about deadlines, sales, and financial returns.

If you’re a compulsive writer and it’s something you’ve always done, it’s particularly important to keep writing for yourself, to preserve that feeling of serenity and the internal insights that arise from it. You will find yourself picking up inspiration along the way, and using elements of it in your commercial writing, but allowing yourself to BE yourself in your creativity, and taking time out from the ‘author’ side of it, is what will help prevent any disillusionment, doom and gloom taking over.

You don’t ever have to make your personal creativity public. Like a diary, you can write it in quill and ink in endless notebooks, or record them aloud using your phone, tablet, or computer. Keep your spontaneity going! It will do your mind and spirit good, as well as positively enhance your professional efforts.

Although I put quite a lot out there commercially, most of my creativity is still personal – I’m still developing my skills and different genre styles away from the marketplace. I still experiment and play with ideas, counsel myself with writing, and use other art forms like sewing, knitting, customising and painting to relax.

One of my longest writing therapy projects did eventually end up in novel form, and because I feel silly/embarrassed promoting it commercially – to me, it’s therapy I wrote for myself, in the guise of narrative fiction (written nearly seven years ago now!) – I give it away in regular Kindle ebook freebies, so a few times a year you’ll find it listed as free:

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition

 Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition on Amazon UK & Amazon.com – search for it on your regional Amazon site as prompted by clicking here on the Amazon.com product page.

This is the version I made more reader-friendly by including shortcuts through the text, meaning you can skip through the internal monologue as prompted and read it more as an action novel, or read the whole thing in linear fashion as a semi-literary one. That was one of my technical experiments in ebook formatting that I’m quite proud of – you can see how it works by checking out the description and the ‘Look Inside’ preview on Amazon.

I’m still in two minds as to whether publishing it (unedited) was the true outcome or purpose, but in terms of the therapeutic side of writing, I definitely came out the other side feeling better for it, both internally and creatively. And having it out there, rather than filed away and forgotten, is a small reminder to me that writing therapy and self-analysis is worthwhile to some of us artistic types – even if no-one else reads it 🙂

I hope you all have a very happy and creative new year, and remember to make time for yourself in the process!

L xxx

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Back to Basics: I, Wordbot – or, who is the author anyway?

Okay. So, you’ve started writing – let’s say, something.

Where do you see this expedition taking you, as an individual?

To the Oscars? To the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards? To a disciplinary at work? To the headmaster’s office?*

*Usually if you start by penning your work of genius on the walls and furniture.

A few writers do well. A few do very well indeed.

For the majority though, it’s the worst hourly rate anyone could wish for.

What person in their right mind spends 17 hours a day for weeks/months/years on a soul-baring project, for the small chance of grossing $10 from Amazon Kindle in the first fiscal year after publication?

  • Do you visualise yourself turning into a 24-hour book-pimping machine once you’ve completed the fun part (viz, writing the story)?
  • Do you plan to change the world by preaching your message to the masses with the concise summation of “Buy my book! And write me a review!”
  • Do you want social conversations around you to gravitate away from the fondly-remembered “What are you up to nowadays?” and more towards “Do you know, I have no time to read anything anymore. I can’t even keep up with the latest Terry Pratchett and Jeremy Clarkson…”

Perhaps there’s something to be said for keeping your new hobby a secret. That way, you can succeed or fail in private.

Maybe analyse your reasons for writing. Do you desire to be a more interesting or worthy person? Instead of inventing interesting and worthy characters, maybe go out into the world and do some volunteering. Or take up an adult education class.

People write for many reasons. Catharsis and therapy, for their own entertainment, because they simply can’t find books to read that they identify with… to learn, to share, to teach, to excavate old personal bones of contention, or to throw light on dark corners of their life. Some of those dark corners seem to contain many heaps of used tissues. Remember, what makes you happy (or sad) may not be viewed the same way by everyone.

Anyway. Selling is a different job altogether, and if you don’t see yourself as a salesman (I’m certainly not one) by all means write – but don’t let the business of being ‘an author’ take away the enjoyment of writing. Just write, publish, and move on.

Being an author doesn’t have to define you. Again, rather like that thing what may merely light your own candle in fiction being the complete witch-trial pyre in other people’s minds and cultures – what you picture the job description of ‘author’ representing in your own mind, may manifest itself differently in other people’s.

When I was very young, someone made it clear to me that their idea of a writer was a useless bum with no skills whatsoever. My own idea of a writer was Barbara Cartland in a pink frilly dress writing about men in tights and ladies swooning, or possibly Clive Barker with a pint of snakebite and blackcurrant, writing about dead things and the afterlife. But the thought of being useless and having no skills was also taken on board, and I’m proud to say I have avoided gaining any of the skills that I should have supposedly gained by not writing. I found that the opportunity to learn more interesting skills came my way instead.

Writing shouldn’t be your excuse for avoiding life, but rather a way of expressing your experiences and philosophies of it. If you don’t have any experiences that you want to write about, and can’t manifest them (either legally or physically, such as sprouting wings), like the best of us, make them up – but it’s your own slant and viewpoints which will tell your readers who you are, through the medium of your characters.

So let’s talk about the taboo subject of authorial leakage. Unintentionally, or otherwise, what private agendas and personal revelations may surface in the process of revealing your new talent to the world.

Writing is like any other art form – so far in the West, until recent history, held as being mystically separate from the laws of real life. Free speech, artistic licence, call it what you want.

There are different forms of art. Art that is life-affirming. Art that inspires criticism. Art that inspires debate, and art that instigates discussion on what constitutes art. However, in modern history, public concerns are voiced more frequently about art that inspires crime and atrocities.

The old-school art school tend to stand by their guns that art should be allowed to be art in any form, whether it’s a dirty unkempt bed or half a cow in formaldehyde. But if it’s a dirty unkempt child or half a pet dog, that’s the NSPCC and RSPCA notified.

With the advent of social media, and internet-based reality live-streaming TV, some people are sharing ‘art’ that should more accurately be described as ‘evidence’. And with certain art forms inspiring domestic violence and murder on a daily basis, now in the headlines with alarming regularity, the conscience of the artist has to be considered as much as the consumer.

For instance, compare the theoretical concept of a designer of a war propaganda poster that leads to an uprising and mass genocide, to the writer of a play that inspires a sick man to go home and shoot his dog. Both had a detrimental effect. One, you might argue, was only doing their job, and was not directly responsible. But which one?

That’s the worst case scenario that you might potentially face, at any point in your career. A crime of any scale being credited to you as the inspiration.

When the paranoia bugs strike at the heart of your art, and you find that your hobby has become a form of inadvertent disclosure about the deepest and darkest places where you occasionally hide the used tissues, it helps to examine and monitor yourself as you write. Um, or maybe seek counselling, and take a bit of a break until things normalise around you again.

At least, until your fantasy world is looking a bit more healthy.

What’s your basic need for recognition, as a writer?

Some examples of an artist’s basic needs:

  • To share an enthusiasm for a specific theme or genre
  • To exorcise a past event or relationship
  • To shock the audience
  • To make people laugh
  • To make people cry
  • To make people angry
  • To gain any reaction whatsoever, usually in as an obscure fashion as you can muster
  • To prove something
  • To disprove something
  • Revenge
  • To make money
  • To make someone love you (good luck with that, have you tried baking? Or giving them a lift anywhere?)
  • To win awards
  • To give your imaginary friends something to do
  • To brag about how clever you are

Note that ‘to be a book promoter/salesperson’ is not on the list! 🙂

The skill isn’t in what you can excavate from the depths of your soul. The skill is in filtering out the story and making it user-friendly, so that whatever inflammatory critique it inspires doesn’t also have the police taking an interest in your magnum opus appearing on a convicted felon’s Kindle, highly annotated and shared with members of his gang…

Don’t worry that writing your book will have your friends and family looking at you funny, talking behind your back, or avoiding you. They’ll be doing plenty of that when you start asking them to buy it and to leave you reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

And that’s BEFORE they’ve even read it 😉

L xxxx 🙂

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

Niche marketing – part 2…

Following yesterday’s post Niche marketing – the psychology behind success I’ll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived ‘niche market’ as I saw it.

When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she’s reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.

Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren’t referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It’s all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion’s fickle nature – you’ll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes – quite literally…

Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned ‘niche market’ is ‘a character’ as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She’d never ask a guy out because she’s too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

That’s a caricature. It’s a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn’t define or specify a completely real person or reader.

The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn’t need to try and target ‘everyone’ and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I’m saying is, don’t announce that your book is for ‘everyone’ – try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide ‘market’ you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.

Here’s my own example – chick lit/crime, ‘self-help’ fiction, Death & The City:

DATC hd cover

Other editions and covers available – see ‘eBooks’. Also in paperback print and hardcover.

Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.

But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.

The ones who hadn’t always managed to pick the right guy – or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.

Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013

The ones who saw everyone else’s mistakes, but still couldn’t make their own life work out perfectly…

Angelina - Girl, Interrupted

Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it’s that they know better, they know what’s best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the ‘worst case scenarios’ on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side…

Britney at MTV Awards

They’re a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship – but that’s only because they’re protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first…

britney-spears

They don’t ‘need a man’ but the right one will find them – eventually.

Katie Price 'Jordan'

And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she’ll kick everyone’s ass…

Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft

…So that’s my caricature of a potential ‘niche market’ audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you’ll find that some of the characteristics you’ve given your ‘specific reader’ speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.

But you don’t advertise that fact.

You stick to communicating your idea of ‘one perfect reader’ who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.

Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it’s to a publisher or directly to the public – and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.

It’s funny. I’ve never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my ‘reader’ and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:

Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover

Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback

The pink is more appropriate – but I still think it’s not quite there yet. I’ll need to make a bigger ‘niche marketing’ pinboard and see where that leads me…

Make your ‘ideal reader pinboard’ – it might surprise you 🙂

L xxx

‘Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition’ free on Amazon Kindle

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition

Now available free through the next 5 days (promotion ends midnight 30 July Pacific Standard Time). Click below for regional product links:

Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.deAmazon.fr – Amazon.esAmazon.caAmazon.itAmazon.co.jpAmazon.com.brAmazon.in

Monday 29 July 2013: 

Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator…

…And Connor Reeves, also not his real name, as it turns out – how he came by his, is less clear…

Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.

When she’s not under surveillance by Head Office, Lara spends her time juggling a night job in bar security, an only child with a zombie fixation, and what passes for a social life in the small hours in between. And the minor matter of ongoing internal scrutiny, by her own highly-self-monitoring personality disorder.

HOW THIS EBOOK WORKS: This version of Death & The City has been adapted for you to literally ‘cut to the chase’ and skip past Lara’s longer internal thought-processes. You’ll see the hyperlinked word SKIP in the right margin, which will take you into the next action segment. If you want to return to the top of the segment you skipped, the word BACK will take you there. So depending on your reader preference – for the times when you just want to stay in the action, and for when you want to know what’s going on in that mind of Lara’s – you can either jump ahead, or read the whole thing continuously – it’s up to you.

Death & The City (c) Lisa Scullard 2008

P.S. The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum is also still free on Smashwords for all devices with promo code SW100 until the end of July – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262618

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Hope you all have a great summer! So far in 2013 I’ve been a cartoon character, a vampire slayer, a pirate… I’ve successfully collected new eye surgery (yay) and some heavy duty sports injuries (ouch), and I’m looking forward to being a zombie again and maybe even a Doctor Who character for events later in the year 🙂 Enjoy! xxxx

Genre Jazz II: Worldbuilding and popular Romance

In the last post I was talking about parody and mash-ups in fiction as a form of new fictional world creation out of existing fabric. Worldbuilding doesn’t end at sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk though.

Reading popular romances lately is a bit like entering a Bridget Jones theme park. Perky secondary characters, unlikely-sounding tycoons who don’t wear high-waisted Simon Cowell trousers or drive Bugattis, or work in real-world industries like Bill Gates – and everything has so much emotional ‘significance’ – from the town or city it’s set in, to the memories inspired in the heroine by the ancient family coffee-pot being utilised to pour a non-significant cup of Java.

Now, I’ve done my share of chick-lit, five years ago with ‘Death & The City’ in 2008. It’s ‘psycho-chick-lit’, and the reason that the lead character notices everything, looks for significance in everything, and analyses everything, is that she’s a self-monitoring, OCD, psychotic-psychopath. I was aiming for a genre mash-up of Bridget Jones meets American Psycho. There’s a reason it’s over-written and contains too much TMI, and that’s because, in my personal experience, learning to filter reality from psychosis takes a lot of self-monitoring, and the best way to portray it realistically was not to filter or edit. Unfortunately, a psychotic can’t go back and edit their thoughts, or their nightmares, so they’re stuck with them, like a demon-possessed mental train set whizzing from one illusion to the next, reinforced by pattern-matching at every station stop.

I did eventually do a cut-down version that readers could skip through, (the Cut to the Chase edition) but more out of experimenting with ebook formatting than out of pity for readers. It’s my own book, basically I wrote it to remind myself to focus on reality and not head off down the path of antidepressants and antipsychotics. So I pick it up once in a while to remind myself of what it used to be like, and how to avoid going down that route again.

I don’t think the eventual sequels will turn out the same – like the lead character Lara was trying to do, I’m running on a different personality now to the one I was escaping at the time. One that doesn’t get out that much, but definitely a saner and less scary one 🙂

Writing it was my own personal journey of self-help, as well as a fictional outlet for a lot of ‘what ifs?’ regarding my job at the time in nightclub security. Ten years previously I was also a bar tender, with another personality. And the kind of preconceptions the public had about that kind of person working in the industry. I could do the real job at night, dealing only with what was in front of me and quoting the licensing laws at people, and during the day I wrote all the delusions up (my own, and of the occasional drunk customers) in the form of fiction. My main relationship was with my car, in which I did up to 300 miles a week, all at night on empty roads, so that was a major feature and place to happily delude myself with new stuff to write down when I got home. And my holiday-romance daughter, who has since turned out to be equally interested in fantasy things, writing about undead carnage, Youtube, heavy metal, and dreaming about what it would be like to have a split personality. Luckily, I can tell her that’s all completely normal, because I went through the real thing.

So as you might guess, seeing a lot of TMI and mental ramblings, delusional thought-patterns, anthropomorphic significance of inanimate places and objects (i.e. scene-setting red herrings), stalking behaviour, and denial of real-world issues glossed over in romance fiction is a bit weird to me. If I was back on the other side of events in my life, it would all act as reinforcement – telling me Sure, be a stalker, or encourage creepy guys, there’ll be a happy ever after before you know it. Funny how that never happens in real life. Which is why I left Death & The City: Book Two somewhat open-ended to be continued later after the two protagonists agreed on a deal. I haven’t even reached that stage yet emotionally myself to know if there will ever be a significant other with whom to do that sort of, er, research…

Lots of writers debate about the problems of writing sex scenes. I don’t even know if I should be writing love scenes. I don’t have the experience. So writing to me is all just ‘what ifs’ – not based on reality. There’s no such person in my life to base it on, and never has been.

In a way it’s good, because I don’t have to worry that anyone would ever recognise themselves in a male lead in one of my books. Background characters for sure, I get inspiration for those everywhere – but even those better know I made most of their character traits up, because I was too busy listening to the voices in my head most of the time to hear their chatter 😉

Anyway, after Death & The City, subs, waiting around, and then discovering broadband, writer sites, the social networking of the internet, and self-publishing – and after a couple of career changes, then becoming a full-time writer and editor – I started looking back into an old teenage ambition to write category romance, without the psychoses (or zombies, real or imaginary). But since picking up a number of the trad published rom-coms and chick-lits to read through over the last couple of years, it appears that the world of trad romance has also lost the plot (while I was away really losing it and getting it back again) so to speak. Lost it in favour of first-person ramblings and red-herring significance attached to everything, combined with a designer label shopping channel, Oddbins wine-list, men with no latex or stalker allergies, and cars that have blown themselves up on Top Gear.

So out of the shock of that, came this year’s parody (of many books and movies) The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum – a more readable, reader-friendly epic about a love-struck idiot who’d take any man at any time of day, dead or alive, given the opportunity…

But it is curious, as to how every romance I’ve picked up in the last eighteen months breaks every rule in the book (the book in question being my fave How Not to Write a Novel by Mittelmark and Newman), as well as indicating that the romantic aspirations of young women today are being influenced more by the need for mental health intervention than for wedding lists and family planning advice. Some women who have been through the real thing (mental heath issues, not romance) don’t relish the portrayal of behaviour which leads to restraining orders in real life, suggesting that it should be deployed to achieve happiness. Or that happiness is a man. Happiness is not a man. Happiness is knowing who you are when you look in the mirror – and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean it literally.

In proper romances, as I recall, the *sane* lead character does not find themselves fascinating to the detriment of all other storyline, action and dialogue. They engage with other characters, their family, work and the world, yes – but mainly, they engage with the Plot. They do not engage with the socks their Great Auntie knitted every time they wear them. They do not gush over the French chandeliers. They do not drool over technology which will be redundant by the time the book is published. They put on regular socks (if they must, but the wearing of clothes generally is usually accepted as a given), they walk into rooms in which the reader assumes the lights are on unless told otherwise, and they do not show themselves up as gold-diggers by doing an inventory of the hero’s apartment and all his gadgets.

There’s another good reason for this. Like wandering around inside the mind of a psychopath, which leaves you wanting a cuddle and a Paracetamol, wandering around inside the mind of any verbose woman for too long leaves you wanting a bit of mystery back in your life. Fuck the Great Auntie’s socks and Mister Tiggles the cat. If all you can picture while reading is the author’s fantasy man, fantasy wank, fantasy shopping trip, fantasy best friends/sidekicks, how much she hates her day job and her boss, and the number of Nigella Bites cooking shows she watched while detailing every meal she wishes she was eating instead of writing and attempting to diet, it’s like spending too long in the company of someone addicted to personal revelations and co-counselling. Which should really be left to people with actual problems and issues that they need help with. Not the kind of thing you can get the answers to by pulling the petals off a daisy instead 🙂

In other words, chatty is fine. Self-absorbed (in silence) is fine. Self-absorbed chattiness, no. Ouch. Bad author. That’s not romantic escapism at all. That’s a recipe for insomnia and psychotic episode flashbacks. If your character is not going to come out as a psychotic who has been (or will be by the end of the book) prescribed everything on the a la carte trolley from Mellerill and Largactyl to Olanzepine and Citalopram, tone it down. One in four of us would like to have a bit of escapism into what it’s like to think straight. Not what it’s like to live in a world where the heroine thinks exactly like us and gets away with it, without turning purple by the end and fatally believing she can fly.

So that’s the internal world of the heroine, being done to death everywhere I look. But what about the external world? The theme park version of every trendy setting on the planet?

If you must name a specific town or place, please go there first. People live there, who will see a theme-park candy-coating a mile off. There is a certain beach I would not want a moonlit romantic tryst on, for fear of stepping on a hypodermic needle or getting deafened by the noise of the regular doggers under the pier. You are allowed to create unnamed fantasy places where people live by simply not referring to them by name, or inventing one if you must. People use the phrase ‘going into town’ when they go out, or ‘going to the beach’. If your town or village is a character and also a real place, why is it a character? Is it historically significant to the plot, or was frequented by a relevant historical figure? Is it haunted or paranormal in some way? Are you marketing it as tourist material to the residents? Remember, that giving an existing location a characterisation not yet known to the residents in real life will raise eyebrows – even more so if you give the general public themselves a new and improved reputation of any sort.

As a writer, I have my reasons for going psycho. But as a reader and consumer, I would like to read things once again which make me experience what it’s like to be romantically sane for a while. Interesting, but normal. And not in a comparative, unresearched, patronizing, I’m normal because the girl next door is sectioned kind of way…

Indulge me 🙂 xxx