Saturday, 29 April 2017

Picking the funny one.

You've either asked this question, or you've been asked it: Where do you get your inspiration from?

In my case, it's both. I love asking this of people as much as I hate answering it myself. Writers, and indeed artists of all kinds, give such great answers. Some say their inspiration comes through dreams. Others say their ideas come to them in a sudden flash, or only at night, and they must keep a notepad by their bed for hasty scribbling. Another writer-friend carries his notebook everywhere he goes and fills the pages with countless ideas and witticisms. I know writers that are inspired by their favourite works of literature.

Whenever people ask me this question (and let's face it, it's not very often, because I don't know many people 😉) I usually say something along the lines of: I sit down and think really, really hard for several hours. Fact is I don't get any ideas unless I'm looking for them. I sit down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee and I stare at the screen and type until something works. It's gruelling, and boring, and I'm often unshaven and half-dressed.

This morning, though, something different happened. I am in the middle of re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the first time since it released. Harry's just finished his first trial, and it was a pretty gripping scene. The Griffindor common room is alight with celebration. Only I look away from my Kindle for a second and stare out of the window at nothing in particular.

Wouldn't it be good if I paired two of my characters up, I think as I stare out of the window at nothing in particular. (The neighbours probably think I'm a bit weird.) It would certainly cheer her up, and he'd have something to fight for. But then she can't do that thing at the end. If I take it out, well, it would make things easier. And the ending could be funny instead of sad. But dwelling on this character's future draws me inevitably back to her origins in the story, the point at which she enters the narrative. And I end up reworking her entire motivation, her arc, her emotional state. I was previously worried that the opening chapters were too grim, too bleak. No, for that matter, I'm still worried that the whole book is too bleak. This would certainly cheer up Chapter Two, I tell myself happily.

My Kindle screen dims and turns off. The Griffindor common room party temporarily dies down. And I'm still staring. What about the ending, though? That would affect Chapter Seventeen and Chapter Eighteen. I'll have to rework her father's role in the narrative, tweak his motivations a little. Wait, this also totally sheds new light on what happens in the first book. And that reveal - I'm going to have to tweak that too.

It's now been half an hour since I started staring out the window. I'm still shirtless and my coffee has gone cold. What about the ending, though? I'd previously settled on two endings and they contradicted one another. I can't have both. But the answer is obvious. I pick the funny one.

And then the entire structure of the third novel reveals itself to me like a map unfurling.

I should put a shirt on soon.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Staring blankly into space for ages without moving is how I get my inspiration. If I'm staring at you, I'm probably not staring about you, I'm pairing off my characters and generally trying to keep them from dying. At least for a few more chapters.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Milestones!

I was chatting with another writer on Twitter when they said they fail more often than not. It got me wondering, what constitutes a creative failure?

Leaving a project unfinished? Writing something that's imperfect? Writing something somebody doesn't like?

Thankfully NOT one of mine.

The fact is, most people don't even bother to try. So your short story was only 1000 words long? That's 1000 words more creative work than most people have ever attempted. The story isn't as good as it could be? Good - you've already identified where you can improve! And for everyone that may or may not like what you've written? Who cares. Screw them. Seriously.

Do what you love for yourself first, and everyone else second.

I need to find out who this guy is.

Today I've had what I consider a small success. The fourth draft of Bovine Intervention has hit 25,000 words. I'm aiming for the book to be about 100-125k in total, so that's perhaps only 20-25% of the final product. And the fourth draft isn't even going to be the final one...

But hey, I love crossing those big-number finish lines, no matter how marginal they appear. I'm still having doubts about the tone and direction of this book (second-book syndrome?) but I don't even care. Because I'm doing okay, I trust my own judgement, and I will celebrate my trivial successes. And maybe, like, three other people will celebrate with me.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Recent Reads!

As the dog needs a bone, as the bird needs to sing, as the cat needs to knock things off the table and stare at you as if it was your fault all along, does the writer need to read. My reading is at best, slow, like how I sip my coffee, and at worst, infrequent, like my exposure to fresh air and sunlight. So when I do read, I like to make sure I'm reading quality material. Here are just a few of the books and series I've been reading this year.

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
No, not that one. What kind of website do you think this is?! No. This is a darkly-comic dystopia about a far-future society in which people are classed according to their perception of colours. Purples are the upper classes, Reds and Blues fairly common, while the miserable Greys are downtrodden and scorned. It sounds oppressive, but this book was incredibly funny. Everything is described via the Munsell colour system and the book is packed with colourful puns - my favourite being the National Colour employee Matthew Gloss. Its silliness is as detailed as to be weirdly believable, and the story takes some incredible and moving turns as well. Eagerly awaiting the next one.


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
I loved the first book back in uni, and I enjoyed the Dirk Gently novels too, but I've never read any further in this particular series. Please don't hurt me! I started back at the beginning a few months ago and am now about halfway through Life, The Universe and Everything. It's not something to overthink, I find the details sketchy and the plot almost non-existent. Its strengths lie in Adams' incredible ideas. Highly readable.


The Muse - Jessie Burton
As I said on Twitter, this historical novel about a mysterious painting deserves every billboard ad it got. Stunning tale that jumps between two periods in 20th century history, with a few painful connections. Really moving.


The Burning Page - Genevieve Cogman
Third in Cogman's series about librarian/spy/assassins who jump between parallel worlds. I love the concept and am looking forward to the next one, but book three was a bit of a disappointment because I felt like the author was holding back too much info about the world and its characters. My patience is far from boundless...


Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling
Needs no introduction. I'm re-reading them for the first time since they came out when I was still in school. I'm seeing new depths and allusions I never noticed as a young reader and I'm astounded at the clarity and economy of Rowling's narration. A lot of detail in very few words. Currently about to start Goblet.


Craft Sequence - Max Gladstone
I've got no idea what this is but I love the covers, the titles and the sample I read. Any fans about? I can't wait to get stuck into this series!


An insight into the contents of my eyeballs right now. If you're a writer and not a regular reader, start today. Really. You'll notice an improvement in your work with every book you read.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

February Progress Update

Hey everyone, welcome back. I'm really pleased to announce that the third draft of Bovine Intervention is complete. Bovine Intervention is the full-length sequel to Déjà Moo, due for release in 2018. Why 2018? I've got a lot of edits ahead of me. The novel's only 83,312 words long so far, compared to Déjà Moo's some 130,000. And a third draft hardly compares to an eighth, in the case of Déjà Moo. (Yeah, editing includes more writing.)

For me, the editing process is way more than correcting typos and adding in more jokes. I've got to examine each of my characters' motivations and choices to ensure they're consistent and logical. I've got to remove characters that don't contribute to the narrative and replace them with others that do. Plots will be scrutinised, twists will be analysed and - hopefully - something resembling a fully-functioning novel will rise from the ashes of my successive drafts. And as for the scene in Chapter Seventeen that I didn't *technically* finish writing? Gods help me, it shall be done. 

In the meantime, the Lawnmowers, Inc. series isn't going anywhere. Both Déjà Moo and Encore Moo are available to purchase on Kindle in your local territory. And if that's not enough, here's a teaser for Bovine Intervention - the opening paragraph...

Sahila Kavita Paswan considered herself something of an expert, only nobody would ever find out, because nobody bothered to ask. Sahila wasn’t usually the kind of woman to offer opinions unsolicited, but she hadn’t many choices when it came to social interaction. It wasn’t much of a leap to suppose that someone who worked six eight-hour shifts a week at Aphrodite Records might have been able to tell you the difference between Bloodstone and Stoneblood, but you mightn’t be surprised to learn that very few people actually cared.

For the record, one was nu-metal with a ska twist, while the other was alternative baroque with a hip-hop flavour, but if you asked which was which you’d be met with no more than a quiet tut and an eye-roll. Sahila had no patience with amateurs. She could recite, on request, each of the eighteen number one hits held by the progressive techno group Bernie + the B-Sides – her karaoke staple – and could even advise which Belladonna Printemps album was a collector’s item and which was better served as a coaster. As it happened, she was in the middle of doing exactly this.

Bovine Intervention is due for release in 2018. Check back soon for a synopsis, cover reveal and some Lawnmowers, Inc. short stories focusing on the series' supporting characters. Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

2016 - The Year of the Cow

A lot has happened this year. But that goes without saying, right? If you’re feeling anything like I am, you probably can’t wait for 2016 to be over. There’s always something cathartic about a new year, even if the individual days remain pretty much the same. It’s the time for reflection, reinvention, and improvement. A chance to move on from all the troubles that came before. And we’ve had a lot of troubles this year, wherever you are in the world. Too many atrocities to count. Too many dead legends. Too many ill-informed decisions made by people who genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. I live in hope they prove correct.

2016 hasn’t been a complete bust. I – at some point, I’ve forgotten exactly when – made the decision to break into self-publishing. I’d tried about two dozen agents, of course. Most of them said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” A few said, “Good luck.” One said, “I love it. I wish I could read the whole thing. But I have no idea to market it.” And I know exactly why they said it. Perhaps that was the best I would get from a commercially-minded literary agent. But 2016 has proven that there is a need for a niche urban-fantasy about celebrity cattle and a time-travel addict.

This year I’ve been overwhelmed by the response Déjà Moo has received, both from friends and strangers alike. The amount of readers around the world who have given the book a chance – and loved it – has been incredible. The generosity of strangers who have taken the time to promote, share, and bolster the reputation of Déjà Moo with reviews across Amazon, Goodreads and their own blogs, has been greater than I had ever hoped. And I’ve endeavoured to return the favours. In summer, I started beta-reading for other writers in similar positions, and I’ve spoken with some fantastic people this year. The online reader-writer community has proven a powerful force, thriving on cooperation and continuing to challenge the traditional publishing structure. If I’ve learnt one thing this year, it’s that in order to succeed, you have to pay it forward.

With that in mind, what can I offer you in the coming year?
  • Short stories! As we speak, I’m planning a series of short stories that will build upon the Lawmowers, Inc. universe. These will be released for free, right here at www.dejamoo.co.uk.
  • Writing tips! I’m going to be writing up my thoughts on every aspect of writing, from dialogue to plotting to editing, and sharing these periodically as well. Whether you’re a writing newbie or a curious reader, I hope these will be both informative and entertaining.
  • Beta-reading! I love reading works from other writers like myself. If you think you are ready for a second (or third, tenth, hundredth!) pair of eyes on your work before you release it, have a look at my beta-reading schedule and claim a slot now!
And as for the future of Lawnmowers, Inc.? I’m pleased to confirm that work is well underway on a sequel entitled Bovine Intervention. I hoped to complete the third draft for NaNoWriMo, but alas, life got in the way. New job plus long days equals tired author. Not only did I fail NaNoWriMo but I failed to complete the novel. Still, I succeeded in taking my own advice, and 60,000 words in two months is better than no words at all. And I’m still going. Lawnmowers, Inc. is very much alive, and it will return before you know it.

That’s all for now, but expect more updates soon. Wishing you a very happy new year,

Peter