Author of the Time Rep Series and Note To Self

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My cat, the art critic

It turns out my cat Matilda wasn’t a big fan of the movie posters I drew for my last post. In fact she hated them so much, she tore up the draft sketches I’d left on the floor, then sat on them. Here’s a little storyboard to show you what happened:

Matilda and drawings

 


Blogpocolypse

I’ve noticed an amusing trend recently with some made-for-television movies, particularly the ones made for the sci-fi channel. Unsatisfied with having a generic monster terrorising people, film producers are now crossing two animals together to make a different, more terrifying combination. It’s hilarious. Two films that have recently caught my attention are Piranhaconda (a cross between a piranha and an anaconda), and Shartopus (which is a cross between a shark and – can you guess? – a whale. I mean an octopus.) Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous, I saw a trailer for a film called Sharknado. That’s right – Sharknado. A cross between a shark and a tornado. You don’t even need to look up a plot summary in Wikipedia for that one – the title tells you everything you need to know. A tornado whips up some sharks from the ocean and transports them inland to terrorise people with disastrous consequences. Still don’t believe me? Well here’s the posters for all three films:

190px-SHARKTOPUS_DVDp

Sharknado_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, Sharknado got me thinking about what other combinations of creatures / natural disasters you could have. Here are my top five, along with a tagline, plot summary, and a hastily drawn movie poster by yours truly, which can be made bigger if you click on it :

AntalancheANTALANCHE

Tagline: When the snow melts, get ready for global swarming!

Plot summary: In the not too distant future, a climate change researcher tries to warn people of the dangers of global warming. He discovers that under the ice in a remote mountain range, there lies a species of giant killer ants, frozen for millions of years. One day, with temperatures hotter than ever, the ice in the mountains melts, and the ants defrost, swarming over the planet with disastrous consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SnakeroidSNAKEROID

Tagline: A venom-y attack from outer space!

Plot summary: In the not too distant future, an astronomer identifies an asteroid made entirely of snakes, set on a collision course with Earth. He tries to warn everyone with no success, and when the asteroid eventually strikes, giant killer alien snakes are sent to every corner of the planet with disastrous consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OctnamiOCTNAMI

Tagline: Eight times worse than a tsunami, four times worse than a twonami

Plot summary: In the not too distant future, a marine biologist is researching some bizarre underwater seismic readings near a popular beach resort. He discovers that a tsunami is immanent, but what’s worse, the tsunami will carry a species of deadly giant octopi to shore! He tries to warn everybody but is ignored, and when the giant waves crash onto land, the octopi are swept ashore with disastrous consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CrocularityCROCULARITY

Tagline: Close that portal, and make it snappy!

Plot summary: In the not too distant future, a quantum physicist is trying to create a singularity that will open a portal to another world. When he eventually succeeds however, he inadvertently creates a gateway between our world, and a planet infested with Crocodiles. With disastrous consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DInoquakeDINOQUAKE

Tagline: Dino-sawing up from the centre of the Earth!

Plot summary: In the not too distant future, dinosaurs come out of an earthquake. With disastrous consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you go. Those are my top five films ideas that combine a creature with a natural disaster. Other honourable mentions for ones I couldn’t be bothered to draw include Scorpcano (scorpions coming out of a volcano), Stingrayn (Stingrays falling like rain from the sky), Zombears (zombie bears) and Taranogater (a cross between a tarantula and an alligator).

If you can think of a good title for a film using the formula of combining two things together, send it my way and I might have a go at drawing it…

Until next time!


Elysium review

Warning – This review contains major spoilers! If you haven’t seen Elysium and don’t want to know what happens, DO NOT READ ON!

Having enjoyed District 9 back when it was released in 2009, I was really looking forward to director Neill Blomkamp’s new film Elysium. Set in the distant future, the film depicts a nightmare vision of Earth; a planet paying the price for years of humanity’s excessive consumption with pollution and disease rife, extreme social unrest, and a crippling lack of natural resources. The super-rich however, wishing to preserve their way of life, live on Elysium, an enormous 2001-esque space-station orbiting the planet with an artificial expanse of rolling green fields, spacious mansions and opulent surroundings. In comparison to Earth, Elysium is a utopia. The food is plentiful, the air is clean, and nobody ever gets sick, thanks to everyone having a “med-bay” in their house – a device that can immediately scan and heal any disease in seconds at the touch of a button.

If you haven’t seen the film and are just reading this for kicks, let me give you a quick plot summary, although be aware that this will totally spoil the film if you haven’t seen it. Basically, a factory worker on Earth (Max, played by Matt Damon) has an industrial accident, exposing him to a lethal dose of radiation and leaving him with five days to live. Not wanting to die, he agrees to steal data from an Elysium citizen in return for a ticket to the space station, where a med-bay can cure his radiation poisoning. However, the data proves to be the key to rewriting Elysium’s programming and bringing equality to society, and once Max has it in his possession, he travels to Elysium, uploads the program, and brings equality to the world. All the while, the Secretary of Defence on Elysium, Jessica Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster), is trying to stop him, but she doesn’t. She gets stabbed in the neck. There are some secondary characters that do stuff, but this review is already going to be way too long (make your posts no more than a page in length, I’m told), so I won’t go into Sharlto Copley’s performance, or the fact that a little girl has her leukaemia cured.

So what did I think? Well to be honest, I left the cinema feeling very disappointed. When I first saw the trailer, I thought Elysium’s concept was strong, the special effects looked great, and the pedigree of everyone involved made me hopeful of a sci-fi blockbuster with depth. In reality though, I felt the film was a let-down for one simple reason – the plot was driven by a series of contrivances, and completely missed the opportunity to explore its concept in a satisfying way.

For a start, I felt Max’s accident was a clumsy trigger used to send him on his quest, and the path he took to get him to Elysium was littered with far too many plot conveniences. When Max is asked to perform the robbery for instance, he chooses the boss of his old company as the mark, who just so happens to be in possession of a code that can be used to reset Elysium’s systems. Despite the code supposedly being encrypted at first, Max is suddenly able to read it when the plot requires it. Doors unlock at precisely the same time as fights finish. Ships are easily shot down by Elysium defences when they are not critical to the plot, but when there are characters on board that need to land, the ships are able to do so. Now, I know it’s easy to highlight plot holes to pick apart a film, but they were just so frequent in Elysium I constantly felt myself being pulled out of the story and thinking about the mechanisms forced into the plot to keep the narrative flowing. It felt written.

However, my biggest problem with Elysium wasn’t so much to do with what was put in the film, but rather what was left out. Elysium had a great concept, and I just felt that if a little more thought had been put into the back-story of the space station and how it perpetuated its existence, a much better story could have emerged. For instance, if there are food shortages on Earth but plenty to go around on Elysium, where does it come from? Is it grown there, or is it grown on Earth? I thought it would have been really interesting if, as well as there being this space station orbiting the planet, there was also perhaps a continent on Earth, cleared of people, which was used purely as a giant farm to provide all the food for the super-rich living in space. It could have looked visually stunning – a huge expanse of greenhouses, lakes of different fish, fields of different animals, all sorts of orchards etc, with factories processing the food into packaged goods for the space station. The filmmakers could even have had a powerful scene where workers were being checked to make sure they were not smuggling wheat out to feed their own families. The continent could have had giant walls all around it to keep the rest of Earth’s population out, and the contrast between the opulence within and the poverty just outside could have been really striking. It also could have been a much better way for Max to get up to Elysium – if he worked in one of these food processing plants and worked out a way to interrupt the food supply, wouldn’t this have been a better way to get there? I don’t know. Well I do actually – it would have been better.

I also think we should have seen an ex-citizen being thrown out of Elysium. If it’s supposed to be a reserve for the super-rich, what happens if someone goes bankrupt? We should have seen a family go through this ordeal, with Jodie Foster’s character one minute being kind and fawning to them, and the next minute tossing them back to Earth to fend for themselves. This could have drawn some interesting parallels with the ebb and flow of wealth today. With a new vacancy on Elysium, we should then have seen the old family possessions and photographs being stripped away, and replaced by those of the next family in line to live there.

Then there’s the ending, where Max uploads the code and re-writes Elyisum’s programming to make everyone a citizen of Elysium and therefore entitled to the benefits previously afforded only to the super-rich. When he does this, med-bays are sent flying down to Earth to administer help to those that need it, regardless of their social status. It’s a happy ending, but I just feel it could have been much more powerful if the consequences of Max’s actions were explored in more detail. After all, if Earth’s two main problems are over-population and a lack of natural resources, how does curing all diseases help matters? And what powers these med-bays anyway? What resources are required for them to remain operational? I think it would have been much more interesting and morally ambiguous if Max was confronted by the Jodie Foster character before uploading the code, where she would try to convince him that handing the keys of Elysium over to the masses was not the answer – Eventually, the med bays would cease to function, the population on both Earth and Elysium would expand uncontrollably, and humanity would destroy itself. You could then have ended the film not knowing if he was going to agree with Foster or not.

Ultimately, Elysium is a film worth seeing as it has an important message and there are a lot of strengths to it. But it could have been so much more powerful. I suppose one good thing about it is that it’s not too long, unlike this review…


The cover for Note to Self is unveiled!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the cover for Note to Self:

Note to Self

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note to Self will be released on September 17th.


New blurb for Note to Self

How much do you trust notes written in your own handwriting?

What if you don’t remember writing them?

What if they’re telling you to jump from a hotel window because the person on the other side of that door wants to kill you?

And what if the notes are telling the truth?

Richard Henley is an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, but when he begins to find strange warnings in his own handwriting, he is sent on a journey to places he never knew existed. With an all-powerful organisation on his trail, his only hope is to trust unexpected allies, take control of his life and uncover the truth about what happened to the girl he loved twenty years ago.

Note to Self is released on September 17th.


A brief history of Time Rep

As you may or may not know, Time Rep took me quite a while to write – six years in fact. But those of you who have read it will know that it’s hardly War and Peace in terms of length (or indeed quality) – in fact it’s only 267 pages long. That means that on average, each page took me a whopping 8.2 days to write. So what the hell took me so long? Did I set myself some sort of challenge whereby I only allowed myself to type by pressing my nose to each key on the keyboard one at a time? Did I carve the words into slabs of stone before handing them to a typist? Or did I fall asleep at the keyboard in the middle of writing every now and then (which often happens to me in the middle ddddddddddddddf dffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff of writing some sentences)?

No, the reason Time Rep took me ages was down to two key factors: First of all, I was writing it around a full time job, and secondly, I had no idea where the story was going when I started, which certainly slowed things down somewhat as I tried to work out what should happen next. And it’s this second reason that I’m going to explore today – the different stages of development that Time Rep went through over the five years it took me to write, and how it got to be the book garnering mixed-to-positive reviews that you see today (if you exclude the one-star review someone gave it on amazon which I still cry about to this day). Be warned though – if you haven’t read the book yet, the rest of this post contains major spoilers, or “spoilerzzzzzzzzzz” as they say on some other nerd websites:

When I first sat down to write Time Rep in 2002, the only thing I had in my mind was the title, and the concept of having a holiday rep meeting tourists from the future. That was it. I hadn’t worked out anything about the alien invasion, the supercomputer predicting Geoff’s insignificance to the space-time continuum, the scene during the Great Fire of London – nothing. All I had was a mental image of a guy asleep on a sofa. I didn’t even know Tim would turn out to be a spy working for the holiday company. In a very early draft, Mr Knight transported Geoff to the future without him realising (as London was still the same in the year 3050), asking him to come back when he’d worked out what he’d done. And although this idea was eventually scrapped, the concept led to the idea that the London of 3050 had been kept the same as it;s 21st Century counterpart due to the alien attack, which in turn led to the idea that the Varsarians were trying to change history.

By 2006 I was about halfway through writing the book – Eric was dead, and Geoff had been knocked unconscious at the party and hypnotised. But from there, I just couldn’t work out what should happen next. Everything I wrote just seemed wrong, and I eventually stopped writing for about a year. I just didn’t know how to proceed. What should happen next? Then one day, a stream of ideas hit me all at once. In particular, I came up with the central idea of the alien invasion, and Tim watching the destruction of humanity through a simulation. I remember the day well – I was actually on a work trip, sitting in my hotel room. I was due to meet up with some colleagues for dinner, and just as I was getting ready to leave, the entire second half of the book hit me at once – the alien invasion, the logic behind defeating the supercomputer, the epic space battle at the end, everything. I remember almost shaking in anticipation as the plot revealed itself to me in my mind, and the next minute, I was frantically writing it all down in scribbles. I rang my colleagues and told them to eat without me, as I couldn’t stop myself from writing. Two hours later, I had twelve pages of notes, a full synopsis for the second half of the book, and severe cramp in my right hand. When I got home, I started writing again, and three years later the book was complete.

By 2008, I had a first draft ready to go. It was quite different (i.e. worse) than the version you see today, but I was reasonably pleased with it, so I started sending the book out to agents. I remember this process taking ages, because each agent wanted the manuscript in a different format – be it the first three chapters, the first five chapters, the first 50 words, a full synopsis, no synopsis, covering letter, chapter breakdown, etc. All in all, I sent the book out to about 40 agents, and over the next few months I received about 40 rejection letters. Some of the letters had some nice feedback, but overall the feeling was that sci-fi was a hard sell, and the book just wasn’t good enough. I was disappointed, but I figured these people probably knew what they were talking about, so I put the book in a drawer and set to work on trying to write a better one. (The second book eventually became Note to Self, although whether or not people will think it’s better than Time Rep remains to be seen!)

Then in September 2010, I was cleaning out my desk and found the copy of Time Rep stuffed between some video game magazines. It got me thinking about how much I had enjoyed writing it, so I found the file on my computer and started reading it again. Having forgotten most of the jokes and the nuances of the plot, I found myself quite entertained reading through it again, so I decided to upload it to free-ebooks.com for free. What the hell, I thought. Within a year it had been downloaded 60,000 times, and was the fifth highest rated book on the website. From this, I got some interest from publisher Altin Bilek Yayinlari to purchase the Turkish language rights, and it was from here that the literary agency Diane Banks Associates offered to represent me to publishers worldwide.

And this was when the hard work really started. You see, although Time Rep had received some really positive reviews, they were from people who hadn’t had to pay for it. If people had to shell out their hard-earned cash for the book, would they be so kind? None of us thought they would – the book was a little short, clocking in at about 70,000 words, and it was felt the overall plot and character development could be greatly improved.

So I set about re-writing it, using feedback not only from my agent, but also a few of my friends. Bad jokes were changed for less bad ones. A significant amount of description was added. Geoff’s character arc was improved so he evolved over the course of the story. Geoff and Tim displayed more comraderie towards each other. The nameless aliens were given a name. The Fire of London scene was lengthened to include a chase. The trip back to prehistoric times during the interview was added. Ruth’s knowledge of events was made more explicit so the twist at the end had more impact. Overall, several improvements were made to the story, and by June 2012 the book had jumped up to about 81,000 words and was ready to go. But it would still take another six months before finding a home at Diversion Books.

Then came the job of Americanizing Time Rep. After all, Diversion Books is an American publisher, selling largely to an American readership. So prams became strollers. ITV became Fox news. Courgettes became Zucchini. Trousers became pants. And so on. By June 2013 I was finally done, and I watched as the book was finally released – a full eleven and a half years after I wrote down the first five words of the manuscript:

Time Rep

by Peter Ward


The top ten mistakes in writing

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve had a list on this website – the trusty stalwart for any blog entry, since everyone loves a good list, don’t they? But what should the list be? How about the top ten best things to do lists about? No, that’s stupid. Or what about the top one best book about time travel? No, too easy… Maybe I should do the top three worst introductions to a blog – although without putting much thought into it, I think this paragraph would probably take the top spot.  

No, I think I’m going to list my top ten mistakes that authors make when writing. And by that, I don’t mean grammatical stuff like starting a sentence with “and” (which is fine, by the way) – I mean things that annoy me when I’m reading a book. Please bear in mind that this is purely based on my own observations – I’m sure there are far better authorities on the matter, but these are the ones I tend to pick up on, in no particular order:

10) The narrative spells everything out for the reader

There are many examples of this, and it’s usually because the author is worried that the reader doesn’t understand what is going on, or how a character feels in a particular situation. One example might be where a guy breaks down in tears, only for the text to then explain that he was upset. Or where characters stop in the middle of the story to ask each other questions to summarise what is going on in the story. Back to the Future Part 2 is a good example of this – about halfway though, the momentum of the film is put on hold for five minute to allow Doc Brown to explain the situation to Marty (and by extension the audience), even going so far as having him draw a diagram on a whiteboard of the space time continuum to avoid any confusion. Not necessary.

9) Characters look ‘confused’, ‘nervous’, ‘angry’, ‘happy’ etc.

Characters should not look ‘angry’, They should grit their teeth and start shaking, their fist clenched. They should not look ‘happy’ either – they should smile broadly, their eyes twinkling with energy. Many authors fall into the trap of describing how someone looks by describing how they feel, rather than just how they look.

8) Over-writing

Sometimes a writer will go over and over and over and over a section of their book until they feel it is right – I did this with the first chapter of Time Rep, and looking back I think it’s the weakest chapter in the whole story. When you start going over something again and again, the writing loses its freshness, and you begin to tweak it to the point where it is no longer anything creative – the text takes on a strangely functional quality. Don’t get me wrong – looking back over your work and editing it is important, but there comes a point where you just have to leave something alone and move on.

7) The plot does not pass the Bechdel test

What do you mean you’ve never heard of the Bechdel test? 70% of fiction (especially films) fail to pass it, and it tends to be a sign that a story is not representing women in a realistic way. But what is it? Well, in real life, there are roughly them same number of women in the world as men, and when they talk to each other (which women tend to do quite a bit), the topic of conversation isn’t always about a man. However, if fiction was truly representative of real life, the world would be 90% male, and if women ever talked to each other, most of the time they would only talk to each other about men. So there are three stages to the Bechdel test: 1) Does the story have more than two named female characters in it? 2) Do they ever talk to each other? 3) If they do, do they ever talk to each other about something other than a man? Take your favourite book and put it to the test – the chances are, it will fail. And in case you’re interested, Time Rep fails the Bechdel test, and Note to Self passes.

6) Character dialogue isn’t what like how people talk like

There are two parts to this – the first is where characters speak unrealistically (see my post on writing dialogue for more on this), and the second is where they talk in situations where there is no way they would be talking to each other. For instance, if a man and a woman who like the look of each other are sitting next to each other in the middle of a plane crash, they would not be chatting each other up – they would be pooing their pants.

5) Too much description

This one all comes down to an author’s individual style – sometimes pages and pages of description can still be a light, entertaining read. Other times, a short piece of description can seem heavy and really hard work to read. For me, I think the thing that differentiates a book from most other mediums is the fact that so much can be left up to the reader’s imagination. Find the balance that works for you and stick to it.

4) The author displays too much attachment to a particular idea or scene

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about writing was that you must be prepared to cut your favourite scene or idea. In Note to Self, there were two ideas I absolutely loved, but both of them never made the final draft because they were simply too difficult to incorporate into the story without having a detrimental affect to the rest of the book. If this is true of an amazing idea you’ve got about your own story, then ditch the idea.

3) Unnecessarily long words

Bad writing is using long words when short ones will do.

2) Lack of emotional engagement with main characters

With many books these days its all plot, plot, plot. And plot is fine, but for the reader to care about the outcome of a plot, they have to care about the affect it will have on the main characters. So make us care about them!

1) Crap ending

 I read the whole thing for this?


Don’t judge someone who designs book covers by their book covers

You know, as much as I go on about how hard it is to write a book, I often spare a thought for the poor person who has to design the cover. After all, the cover has a very important job to do – it has to visually represent the essence of the book in a way interesting enough to attract people’s attention and lure them over. And even worse than that, the weight of expectation when showing it to the author for the first time must be considerable, even though the publisher often has final say. The thing is, it’s often not very easy to find the right image – especially when the stories are as bonkers as the ones I write.

Time Rep went through a variety of covers before the gorgeously sexy one it is bestowed with today. First of all, when it went on the internet as a free e-book, the website threw together a cover quickly for me, based solely on the title. And this is what it looked like:

Time RepI suppose it had the word “time” in the title, so a stopwatch did the trick for them. Anyway, after a few weeks I thought I’d try and improve it, and designed something myself in a generic digital watch font with some lines shooting out of a corner:

Time Rep 2When I showed it to my girlfriend and asked her what she thought, she said “It’s rubbish.” Which it is. But sure enough, that image stayed online for a good few months. Finally, when Diversion Books obtained the English language rights, my agent asked me if I had any suggestions for the cover to pass on to them. I suggested a picture of the seagull sitting on a rock, overlooking the ocean (which to me is the key image of the book), and included this mocked up image as a guide for the designer:

Time Rep 3Having realised the image was awful within five minutes of sending it, I e-mailed my agent again telling them to ignore it. She replied “Thank God you said that – I thought it looked like a self-help book!” So you see, when I look at book covers (and the cover of Time Rep in particular), I take a moment to appreciate just how hard it is to design something that looks good; something that does the story justice.

This is why I need to become more famous you see – to help make life easier for my cover designer. After all, the more famous you get, the more space your name takes up on the cover, and the less space is given to pesky design elements such as the title of the book, or any images associated with it. I’ve demonstrated this below in a chart I like to call the “Fame to name size on cover” curve:

gumbleYou see how easy it becomes? If the cover you’re designing sits on the right hand side of the curve, you’re laughing! Just bosh the name in, leave an inch or so for the title, then you can spend the rest of the day playing The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Or perhaps Pikmin 3 if you’re not into role playing games, and have a Wii U.

So why am I talking about book covers, you ask? Because I’m excited to see what the nice people at Diversion Books come up with as the cover for Note to Self. So much crazy stuff happens in that book, I wouldn’t know where to start if I was them…

Until next time!


Writing a complaint

For those of you who are not aware, my cat Matilda handles all complaints about this website. Please be aware however that she doesn’t take criticism very well. Only the other day I told her off for being asleep 23 hours a day, and this is the look she gave me:

Matilda

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creating your characters

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, you may remember a short piece I wrote a little while ago offering advice about how to come up with a good plot for your story. At the time, I said that while there were many advantages to having a strong plot, it was not essential. After all, a great storyline is irrelevant if your readers don’t care about how it affects the people in your story, and for that you needed good characters for them to emotionally engage with.

So what makes a good character? Well, I think the best way to illustrate this is to first of all demonstrate what makes a bad character. But what do we mean by ‘bad’? Is that person weak? Do they lack distinctive personality traits? Do they fall within a certain stereotype? Does the reader fail to connect with them? All these things are certainly the warning signs of a poorly developed character, however I think the best example of defining this has to be from Red Letter Media’s video review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. In this review, a group of people are asked to describe the main characters in The Phantom Menace versus those in the original Star Wars movie, without referring to what they do for a living, or what they look like. For the original Star Wars, the participants found this easy – Han Solo was charming rogue, who eventually demonstrated that he had a heart of gold. C3-PO was a coward, but endearingly funny in the way he fretted about the situations he found himself in. However, when it came to The Phantom Menace, the participants were unable to vocalise anything about two of the film’s main characters (Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé Amidala) without referring to their occupations or what they looked like. So for starters, I would say that if you find yourself having similar trouble describing your own characters, go back to the drawing board. And by the way, if you haven’t watched Red Letter Media’s reviews of the Star Wars prequel films, stop reading this right now and check them out by clicking on this text that I have turned blue to indicate that it is a link to that website. If you disliked the prequel films as much as I did and need someone to articulate all that was wrong with them, there is no better place to go. It’s an almost cathartic experience.

But back to developing your characters. Anyone can tell you why a character is bad, but what makes them good? Well, ultimately there is no specific formula – I’ve listed a few things below that I try to consider as a guide, however it is important to remember that even if you do all the things I’ve suggested, there is still no guarantee that your character development will be complete. Creating a character is like cooking a meal – just because you’ve added all the right ingredients, it doesn’t mean the food will taste right – too much or too little of something can send things off balance and make things unpalatable. In truth, no-one can tell you when you’ve got it just right – but there should be a point where you just get that feeling that the character is fully formed. It’s that point where they become their own entity in your mind; you no longer have to think about how they behave – they just show you.

So anyway – here are some quick tips I try to use when developing the characters in my stories. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope it is of some use…

Backstory
The most critical thing to remember when creating any character is that their existence should not be confined to the period of time in which the story takes place – they should have a history; things that have built them into the person they are when the reader is introduced to them. This back story may never be referred to in the story itself, however as an author you should be aware of the character’s upbringing, as it will affect how they come across. So when thinking of a backstory, think about their childhood. What it was like growing up. What experiences have they been through, good or bad, that have now shaped their attitude towards life? Ultimately, you may choose to explore a backstory in tremendous detail in the story, or it may simply be a throwaway line that reveals that extra depth. Or it may not get a mention at all. But even for your most incidental characters, it should still be there.

Think about how your characters speak
A common problem with characters is that no matter how diverse they might be in your mind, you are still the person putting words in their mouths. As such, it is easy to fall into the trap of all your characters articulating themselves in similar ways. I’ve read some books where all the characters use the same turn of phrase, or have the same rhythm to their speech, and it always pulls me out of the story, as it is clear they all share the same voice as the author. An easy way out of this is to exaggerate dialects or accents, or use idioms when they speak, however the better a writer you are, the better you will be at making this very subtle, so the reader hears different people speaking, rather than the same person talking through different mouths.

What are your character’s roles in the plot?
Some characters exist solely for the purpose of furthering or explaining the plot. Take every single episode of Star Trek for example, where the unnamed crew member accompanies the cast on an away mission down to the planet’s surface. Nine times out of ten, the only purpose of that character is to get killed. By a tentacle monster. So now the mission is for the crew to kill the tentacle monster. You also have what I call “exposition characters”. These characters have one job and one job only – to turn up and explain what’s going on a lot, like Donald Sutherland’s role in JFK. While this is not always a bad thing (sometimes things do need explaining), in many instances, a character that exists solely to tell the other characters what is happening is normally the product of a confusing plot.

Unexpected behaviour
Everybody does something unexpected now and again. Yesterday, I drank a tea with no sugar in it for instance. Crazy! The same can be true of your characters, and by far the best example of this is where good characters do bad things, and bad characters do good things. Why not have your villain rescue a kid from being run over by a car? Or have your hero shout at their kids? It’s a great way to add considerable depth the key players in your story, and since we’re all flawed individuals, it’s pretty realistic too.

I never realised I did that!
How often has someone told you something about yourself that you never realised? Maybe you have an annoying habit that failed to register in your mind, but annoys the hell out of everyone around you. Maybe you think you’re a great listener, but actually most people think you just politely wait for them to stop speaking before reverting the conversation back to yourself. Everybody lacks self awareness to a degree, as there is always a gap between how you intend to come across, and how people perceive you. Explore any instances of this in your story where possible, as it can often be used to lead into a confrontation that reveals even more about your characters.

So… what do you like doing?
Imagine you were introduced to a stranger at a party. What would be the first thing you would ask them, after the obligatory “what do you do a living?” conversation exhausts itself? Normally, you would start to explore common interests. Art. Films. Music. Bird watching. All that stuff. So imagine you asked someone what their interests were, only for them to say “nothing really.” What would you do? You’d probably try and escape that conversation as quickly as possible. Your characters need to be interested in things outside of their job and the plot they find themselves in, otherwise they are not people.

Ouch
Most of us have an inner pain inside us – something traumatic that has happened to us in the past, like the loss of a loved one for example. Pain affects our attitude towards things around us, and affects how we are motivated. For example, a character who was ignored by their parents might now be someone who always wants to be noticed; an extrovert who gains strength from how others react to them. From this, you can usually get to a place where you understand what your character fears the most, which is one of the most important things to know when you are shaping them in your mind. The extrovert for instance, would hate solitude.

Appearances are important
It’s always good to make description functional – use it to reveal more about the character. For example, a character wearing brown shoes doesn’t suggest much, other than the fact that they are wearing a pair of brown shoes. However, if those brown shoes were polished to such a fine sheen that they sparkled, or if the toecaps were so scuffed they’d almost worn away, you get so much more information about the person wearing them. It’s also good to think about how the character’s appearance affects other people’s perception of them. For instance, an ugly guy might have always had trouble having the confidence to speak to women, which affects him to this day.

So there you go. As I said, there are definitely more things to consider, and following these rules won’t necessarily result in you creating the dream cast for your story. But I do hope it helps.

Bye!


Note to Self

It’s funny isn’t it – two and a half weeks ago I posted a blog entry about the importance of making the time to write, and since then I haven’t posted a thing!

Don’t worry though – the reason for my absence isn’t because I immediately showed how I don’t follow my own advice – it’s because I’m currently working on a third book, and have spent the last few weeks hammering out an 11,000 word chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the whole story, just to get everything clear in my head. At this stage I don’t want to go into too much detail about what this new story is about, but I will say it’s my first foray into the world of detective fiction, set in a sci-fi environment. The plot has several twists and turns, however the main story doesn’t stray too far away from the formula everyone knows and loves: A murder is committed in seemingly impossible circumstances, and the main character is tasked with getting to the bottom of it.

Anyway, writing my new book got me thinking about my second novel, Note to Self, which is due to be released in mid September by the lovely people at Diversion Books. What with Time Rep being published last month, I haven’t really said much about it, so I thought now might be a good time. Are you ready? Then here goes:

The first thing to say about Note to Self is that I’m really scared about its release. You see, with Time Rep it was easy – the book had already been available on the internet for free for a couple of years before being published, so I had already seen a decent amount of feedback on it, and therefore knew roughly what to expect. Note to Self however has only been read by a handful of people at the time of writing, so there’s a lot more uncertainty in my mind as to how it will be received. The other thing to say is that as a novel, it is very different to Time Rep. Time Rep was a comedy; a light-hearted caper, and while Note to Self moves at a similar pace (in fact, it probably has more action in it), it’s certainly more serious in tone. The style of writing is also quite different, and I guess that’s down to my age. I started writing Time Rep when I was 21 and finished it when I was 27. Note to Self on the other hand was started when I was 27, and only finished this year. I’m now 32, so you can imagine how you change as a writer over eleven years – for a start, I’ve learnt to never use the word ‘moreover’.

But what is Note to Self about? Well, if you haven’t read the blurb, I suggest you go and do that now, then come back. Don’t worry – I’ll wait here for you.

Are you done? Ok, welcome back. What did you think? Did the blurb sound intriguing enough for you to want to know more? I hope so. For those of you who liked the sound of all that (both of you, that is,) here’s an extended synopsis, just to whet your appetite:

An ordinary day in the office starts to turn a little bit peculiar for middle-aged accountant Richard Henley when he is paid a visit by Cassandra – a mysterious girl in her early twenties who insists on taking him out for dinner that evening. Despite having never met each other before, Cassandra knows an awful lot about Richard’s life, from the details of his divorce three years ago, to his current living arrangements. Although he is initially hesitant, there is something about Cassandra he finds compellingly familiar, and he agrees to meet up with her. However, when Richard goes to meet Cassandra for dinner that evening, he soon begins to question his sanity when she fails to show up, and he starts receiving strange notes seemingly written in his own handwriting. As impossible as it seems, the notes are able to change before his very eyes, and even engage him in conversation. They warn him that he is in terrible danger, that a group of people are trying to kill him, and that he must follow the written instructions if he wants to stay alive. Richard doesn’t know what to believe, but soon finds out the notes are telling the truth. But how is any of this possible? And why is he being hunted? The answers to these questions will push Richard’s grip on reality to the limit, taking him to places he never knew existed, and force him to question everything he ever thought possible…

That’s it. I think the mystery in Note to Self is a bit more complicated that the one in Time Rep. And before you ask, no – the ultimate explanation has nothing to do with time travel, nor is he mad, nor is he dreaming. Yet the notes do indeed change before his very eyes, and are even able to read his thoughts. How is that possible, you ask? Well you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

At time of writing, Note to Self is scheduled to be released on the 13th September.


Making the time to write

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years, it’s that writing a book is really hard. And I mean really hard. For a start, you have to have an idea for a story, and that idea preferably needs to be a good one. You can of course have a bad idea for story, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Once you have a good idea for a story, you then need to have the time to write the bloody thing. This is really difficult, because in this day and age we have all sorts of modern distractions to deal with: work, sleep, seeing friends, watching television, watching television with friends, eating, maintaining an acceptable level of personal hygiene, eating sweets, feeding the cat, writing blog entries about making the time to write a book– the list is endless. Well, it’s not endless, but it’s pretty long.

Finally, you need the discipline to see the book through to the end. Starting work on a book is one thing, but finishing it is something else altogether. For me, persevering with Time Rep until it was done was the hardest part of the writing process. Now, you may have a romanticised image of my lifestyle as an author in your mind, imagining me to be someone who wakes up in the morning, lazes around the flat a bit thinking about what I’m going to write, before strolling down to my local cafe with a laptop, sitting out in the sun for a few hours merrily typing away, sipping a cappuccino. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth. Time Rep was written around a high-pressure, full-time job in London – a job I still do to this day. Once the book was finished and I began showing it to people, their first reaction was always the same: “Where on Earth did you find the time to write a book?” they would ask me. The answer is simple – I was so passionate about writing the book, I made the time. It took many, many years, but I got there in the end.

But how exactly do you make the time for something like that? The answer is simple – you just stop doing other things. With me, I stayed up late if I was on a roll with a particular chapter. Made notes in my lunch break about what I was going to work on that evening. I wrote around the periphery of my job. But work isn’t the only thing that gets in the way. Some people find it hard to find the time to write if they are in a relationship, and that’s perfectly understandable. After all, writing is a very solitary experience, and if your partner doesn’t understand that, it can lead to tensions that might get in the way of you pursuing your dream. Now, I’m not saying you should dump your partner to pursue a career as a writer, but at the same time, you mustn’t let a relationship get in the way. If you want to write a book and things like this are stopping you, find a solution. And if your partner cares enough about something that’s so important to you, they will understand. I’m very fortunate that my fiancee is as passionate about writing as I am, so she understands the need to leave me alone now and again, just so I have the space to complete what I’m working on. Obviously there is a balance to be had (I make sure I give her my full attention for at least 3 minutes a week), but take it from me – it is possible to reconcile writing commitments with a full time job, or a long-term relationship, or both.

But why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s because I know a lot of people out there want to write a book. Or have an idea for a book. Or have started writing a book. Or know someone writing a book. In many instances, these people find themselves stalling with their work, or not starting at all. And that’s a real shame. It saddens me to think about all these great books in people’s minds that may never get written, and it makes me think about all those potential masterpieces we may be missing out on. And why are we missing out on them? What’s the reason for this? What’s getting in the way of people following their dreams of writing a book? I’ll tell you – nine times out of time, when you ask someone why they have stopped writing (or haven’t even started), you get the same answer:

“I just haven’t got the time…”

Yes you do. You do have the time. We all have exactly the same time as everyone else – we just choose to use it in different ways. Now, of course I understand everyone has varying personal circumstances that make it more or less difficult for them to free up time. Maybe you have children, or care for someone, or have to watch three episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation every night (like me). Everyone has different commitments that intrude on the time we would ideally devote to pursuing an ambition, and I guess that’s life. However, if what I have said resonates with you; if you are someone who has a burning desire to write a book but finds there’s always something getting in the way, I hope this has made you realise that you are not alone. All authors have the same issue with making time for writing, and if they can put those issues to one side, you can do it too.

To summarise my feelings on all this, I’d like to finish with an old saying I heard recently that has a certain haunting quality to it; one that made me realise the need to stop dawdling and just get on with it:

“Today is the oldest you have ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be ever again.”

Until next time.


The internet translation spreadsheet

It’s always amused me at how differently people behave on the internet compared to what they are like in person. Take the computer game Second Life, for instance. In the game, people create avatars of themselves, and many choose to completely change their appearance from how they look in reality. In the virtual world, their character might be tall and handsome; a brash, loveable rogue who roams the game with reckless abandon, wooing all the women he meets. In real life, the person behind the avatar might be a fat, short dude who sits at his computer all day eating crisps; someone who gets shy if a girl even looks at him on the bus. From a different bus.

In many ways, that’s the beauty of the internet. It affords us an element of detachment from our real lives, giving us the opportunity to look and behave in ways we would never dream of doing face to face with someone. And the reason we can do that is because for the most part, we have the illusion of anonymity, and by virtue of that, the belief that whatever we choose to say or do will be relatively consequence-free. For instance, if you insult a guy 4,000 miles away in an internet chat room using a false name, he’s hardly going to track you down, come round your house, and beat you up, is he? No. Unless of course he’s Neo from the Matrix. Which he won’t be.

The reason I mention this is because now that Time Rep has been released, the reviews have started to roll in. (Have you ever wondered where that phrase came from by the way? Why should reviews “roll in”? Did people used to write them on balls or something?) Anyway, so far they have been pretty positive, but I have to say I get nervous each time I see a new one appear. Not because I think the book is going to be savaged (Personally, I think it’s great, but then I suppose I’m slightly biased), but because I know how harsh the internet can be if it’s not in a good mood. When you give your book to friends and family to review, they are usually pretty polite in their criticism. After all, you’re right there with them, so they’re hardly going to say, “OMG THIS WAS THE WORST BOOK EVER LOLOLOLOL.” They sugar coat things. Make you feel as though the bad things weren’t that bad. But this is why the internet is great: no-one really cares about how an author might react to a bad review, so you get much more uncompromising, honest feedback.

To illustrate this point further, I have come up with The Internet Translation Spreadsheet™ (or ‘Tits’ for short). This spreadsheet takes an everyday scenario, and then looks at how someone might react face-to-face, compared to how they might react on the internet. Here are some examples:

Image3 So yes – that’s my take on the internet, which is basically characterised by a lack of empathy, and an abundance of exclamation marks.

When the first draft of Time Rep was uploaded to free-ebooks.com in 2010, it was really interesting seeing what people thought. I remember how excited I was waiting for the first reviews to come in. What would people think? Would they like it? I uploaded the book in September, and checked the site everyday for feedback. A couple of weeks went by with no comments, but still I checked every day, just waiting for that first review. Then finally, after about 400 downloads, my first review came in. This was it – my first piece of feedback on the book from someone who didn’t know me. What were they going to say? I clicked on the link to the review and braced myself. Do you know what it said? Four words: “It was very useful.”

That was it.

No explanation as to what was very useful about it, or why it was very useful. Just “It was very useful.” For the next few days, I just thought about those words, wondering what they meant. It was very useful. I then emphasised different words in my inner monologue to see if that shed any light on things. It WAS very useful. It was VERY useful. IT was very USEFUL. What the hell were they talking about? Why would a fictional book about people travelling back in time for their vacation be remotely useful? Was the reviewer looking to set up his own time-tourism business, and found the ideas presented in the story useful? Did he print out a copy of the book and use the pages to line his cat’s litter tray after he’d finished reading them? Was that why it was useful? I’ll never know. All I know is that to that person, Time Rep was very useful. His review however, was not.

More reviews followed, ranging from extreme praise to utter condemnation. One minute I had a review saying I had “embraced the purity of sci-fi” and deserved to win a Hugo award, the next minute I had someone say the book had a good story but was “a total waste of words.” My favourite negative review was when someone simply wrote: “If you can get past the first paragraph, you’re a better man than I!” He’d then posted the entire first paragraph into his review to prove his point and left it at that. To be honest, I could see where he was coming from – I struggle to get past the first paragraph of Time Rep these days, but then again I have read it and re-read it about four million times. In fact, I would go as far to say that if I read the opening paragraph of Time Rep one more time, I think it might send me over the edge. The next thing you know, I’ll do something nuts like try and eat all the furniture in my house, starting with the sofa.

The thing is, good or bad, every review is fascinating to read. It’s really interesting (and quite addictive) hunting down those obscure reviews, seeing what people think of your work. There are reviews that make you jump for joy, and reviews that make you want to cry, but that’s what makes it interesting; that’s what creates that incomparable feeling of excitement and anticipation when a new review cartwheels / swims / parachutes / nosedives in.

And now that time has come again. Time Rep has been re-written, re-released and it is ready to be re-reviewed. I’m not sure what I expect, but at the very least I hope it scores higher than The Gospel According to Chris Moyles, which isn’t supposed to be very good.

Not that I would ever say that to Chris Moyles in person of course.


Welcome NOOK readers!

Something quite unexpected happened today – Barnes & Noble decided to promote Time Rep on the front page of their website for the next thirty days, highlighting it as a “compelling read from an emerging author”! They have also taken it upon themselves to place adverts for the book on NOOK devices, and even e-mail their customers about it! What nice people! I might send them some biscuits.

So in light of this sudden publicity, I thought I’d better say a quick hello to all the NOOK readers discovering my rather average website for the first time. To get yourself acquainted with how things work around here, I suggest you first of all check out the rules I created for this blog. So far I have managed not to break any, but then again I did once vow never to eat quiche, only to try some a few years later. Boy, did I regret that – I hate quiche.

Secondly, if you’re interested in Time Rep and would like to know more, there’s a whole load of extra stuff accompanying the book. First and foremost, you should really check out the excerpt from the Time Rep Employee Handbook. To be honest, it won’t tell you much about what it’s like to be a Time Rep, although it does give you an insight into one of the main characters in the story – Ernest Knight. Secondly, there are two excerpts from The Bluffer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Riding in elevators and Knowing your celebrities. These tell you even less about what it’s like to be a Time Rep, but they do provide an interesting insight into how people from the year 3049 perceive us. Finally, you can take this quiz to see if you have what it takes to be a Time Rep. I’m constantly adding new stuff to this site, and I think about forty percent of it is pretty good, so be sure to check back often.

Anyway, that was it. It just remains for me to once again welcome all NOOK readers to the site – I do hope you enjoy it!


The Time Rep marketing machine splutters to life!

Okay – now that Time Rep has been released, I need to think about how I enter the third stage of becoming a successful published author. In case you were wondering, the first stage was just writing an actual book so I could call myself an author. This took six years. The second stage was becoming a published author, which took another six years. If things follow the same pattern, I’m hoping to be a successful published author by July 6th, 2019. That is, if it happens at all – I’m fully aware that in life there are no guarantees, particularly if you shop at flea markets. I bought a faulty flea from one the other day and they wouldn’t let me return it.

But what do I mean by ‘successful’? Well, I think a successful published author is someone who can say their books have been read by lots of people. Or maybe even lots and lots of people. Now, don’t get me wrong – in terms of what’s truly important to me, it’s all about the writing. Just completing a book without going mad and giving the first draft to your friends and family is the most rewarding thing you will ever experience. That is of course, if your ambition is to be an author. If you hate writing and want be a professional footballer instead, writing a book is going to be about as fulfilling as running a marathon and then drinking a thimble of orange juice at the end to quench your thirst. For me though, I did want to be an author, so it was very exciting to see how people first reacted to something I had created, (even my mum, who stopped reading Time Rep after chapter five because she said she didn’t have a clue what was going on).

However, it would be nice if Time Rep became big. Every time I hear about someone who liked it, and every time I see a comment about how it made someone laugh, I feel good, and encouraged to write more. I love writing, so the more that happens, the better.

So how do I make Time Rep big? How do I get lots of people to read it? There’s only one solution – I need to resort to the dreaded M-word:

Muffins.

Actually, not muffins – marketing. That’s what I meant. Having said that though, muffins might work too, if you got one free with every book. It might be a bit tricky to do over the internet though, particularly since the last muffins I made are now being used as paperweights.

So anyway, I’ve been doing some research on successful marketing methods, to see if I can use some to publicise my book. By ‘research’, I mean I’ve been watching lots of television commercials, and by this I mean I’ve just been watching a lot of television programmes, which generally get interrupted by commercials every few minutes. What I have concluded is that all marketing campaigns fall into one of the following categories:

1) The “Take a classic song and butcher it by rewriting the lyrics and shoehorning your brand name in there, even if it doesn’t scan with the tune” approach

In the old days, when the marketing industry was remotely creative, musicians used to write jingles for products. Anyone remember the Shake & Vac advert? Or Cadbury’s Smash? Okay, they’re not going to win any awards for musical significance (oh wait – they did), but at least they were original. Nowadays, you have companies like UPS taking the lyrics for “That’s Amore” (made famous by Dean Martin), and replacing them with this soul-rending alternative:

When the planes in the sky for a chain of supply that’s logistics
When the parts for the line come precisely on time that’s logistics
A continuous link that’s is always in sync that’s logistics
Carbon footprint reduced bottom line gets a boost that’s logistics
With new ways to compete they all be eyes on Wall Street that’s logistics
When technology knows just where everything goes that’s logistics
Bells will ring ring a ding ring a ding ring a ding that’s logistics
There will be no more stress cause you called UPS that’s logistics

Or how about Confused.com’s reworking of the lyrics to (the admittedly less classic) YMCA by The Village People:

Young man, there’s no need to feel blue
I said hey now, Car insurance is due
You could save yourself a fortune
Compare insurance at Confused.com
We’re saving money at Confused.com…

It goes on. If I was to go down this route of marketing the book, perhaps I could rewrite the lyrics to “Something” by The Beatles. It would go like this:

Something in the way she reads Time Rep
Attracts me to a bookshop like no other lover
Something in the way she laughs at the hilarious jokes
I don’t want to leave her now
But I think I will anyway and buy myself a copy

Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I haven’t got to the funny part she is reading
Something in her style that shows me Time Rep is good
I don’t want to leave her now
But I think I will anyway and buy myself a copy

You’re asking me will my love grow for Time Rep
I don’t know, wait I do – it will
You stick around now, it may show
Buy a copy of Time Rep

I think that works pretty well, don’t you? I think I’ve treated the source material with enough respect, right?

2) The “Men are stupid” approach

These are the adverts where a man is depicted being unable to complete a simple task that usually involves cleaning, making dinner, or doing some other domestic routine. It will be something like putting washing powder into a tumble drier and then wondering why the clothes have come out all powdery or something. The man will be there scratching his head, before the woman comes along and sorts everything out. The idea in the eyes of the marketing bods is that women will watch these adverts and think to themselves, “Ha! Men are so stupid! By extension of this, my husband / boyfriend is also stupid! What would they do if I wasn’t about to carry out all these domestic tasks that they are too stupid to do? Stupid heads!” The woman is then supposed to feel empowered at the notion that they are the ones smart enough to do the laundry. In reality of course, everyone can see right through what the commercial is trying to do, but it is frankly embarrassing that some people think women are dumb enough to fall for it.

So how would I adapt this approach for Time Rep? I think maybe I would have a man trying to read the book, except he is having trouble because he is holding it upside-down. At the same time, he is also trying to do the ironing, but because he’s having trouble reading the book, he isn’t concentrating on the task at hand. As a result, he accidentally irons over his own hand and drops the book on the floor. A woman will then turn up and roll her eyes, hand the book back to the man the right way around, then make him sit down and read the book so she can do the ironing for him.

That’s female empowerment for you!

3) The “Shout at the screen” approach

My favourite form of advertising. No messing around, someone just walking onto the screen and shouting “BUY THIS PRODUCT YOU MORONS! IT DOES ALL THIS AMAZING STUFF YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT!” Adapting that to publicising the book would be easy. I’d just get someone to run up to the screen and shout “BUY TIME REP YOU IDIOTS!!!”

4) The “Just show some big tits” approach

It’s the oldest phrase in the business – sex sells, and if you need an example, just type “Fiat boob job commercial” into to Google to see a wonderfully tasteful advert from Brazil, taken straight from the “Elaine Showalter book of marketing ideals.” The commercial basically involves a woman telling her partner she’s getting a boob job, followed by the man fantasising about diving into her cleavage. I think the message from Fiat is pretty clear here: “Aren’t big tits great? Oh and while you’re thinking about big tits, why not think about buying a Fiat? Did we mention they are good cars?” No, you didn’t mention that, but you did reveal that your marketing department likes to come up with campaigns that gives them an excuse to film girls with big tits, and that we should associate big tits with Fiats. Did you get many women buying your cars on the back of that advert, Fiat? I think not. I know it sounds like I’m making this up, but here’s a screenshot from the advert in case you don’t believe me:

boobs

So if I was to adapt this approach to market the book, I think I’d get a custom bikini made that said “Time” over the right boob, and “Rep” over the left one. Then, if you were looking at someone wearing said bikini, it would read “Time Rep”! Genius, huh?

5) The “Celebrity endorsement” approach

This one is equally transparent. You just need a famous person to say they use your product. The idea is that people will watch the advert and think, “wait a minute – that person is someone I want to be, and they use this product! Perhaps if I used that product, I would be more like them!” The key is to make sure you pick someone who appeals to your target market. That’s why you get Brad Pitt advertising a perfume, or Cat Deeley advertising a shampoo. For Time Rep, I think it’s pretty straightforward – I’d hire the cast of The Big Bang Theory. And Spock.

I think that covers all angles in terms of potential marketing approaches, so look out for these soon. And if you have any ideas yourself, feel free to mention them in the comments below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a Fiat…


Time Rep is now released!

Well, the day I’ve been waiting for is finally here – after first putting pen to paper back in 2002 (or should I say “putting finger to keyboard”, even though that’s a little less romantic as a mental image), Time Rep has been published. You can now buy it, read it, like it, review it positively, and make all your friends buy it. If you like. Of course, you’re free to not buy it, say it’s crap without reading it, and tell all your friends not to buy it. But don’t do that though, because that’s cruel.  In the absence of a major marketing campaign to support the launch of the book, I’m trying to generate what marketeers call “word of mouth”, whereby people tell each other about something of their own accord. I have to say though, I never did understand why it’s called “word of mouth”. Why does it have to be just one word? Can’t it be called “words of mouth” instead, or are people literally only allowed to use one word? If that’s the case, I’ve managed to get round this by inventing a new word for people to use. It goes like this:

IjustreadtimerepbypeterwardanditsreallygoodandIthinkyoushouldreadittooandtellotherpeopleaboutitifyoulikeit.

It’s a bit of a mouthful, however you can also use the acronym below if you like:

IJRTRBPWAIRGAITYSRITATOPAIIYLI

That’s easier, isn’t it? If you’re still on the fence as to whether to read Time Rep, I would say that if you’ve been following my blog for the last few weeks, you’ll probably like it, even if you’re not a massive sci-fi reader – the book is exactly the same sort of nonsense I spout on this site, only it’s 81,500 words longer and has a plot. If you need more convincing, it also has quite a good joke in it on page 212 about supermarket conveyor belts – what more could you ask for from a novel?

So you can purchase Time Rep from any of the wonderful websites below:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Rep-ebook/dp/B00DQ8LJGW/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372770305&sr=1-1&keywords=time+rep+peter+ward

iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/time-rep/id652863776?ls=1

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/time-rep-peter-ward/1112350933?ean=2940016743318

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Time-Rep/book-V0kS2kuCKkugu1KuLu6BJA/page1.html?s=fxEdSqqemk2yTIJEZf5muw&r=1

Ganxy: https://ganxy.com/i/80384

In all seriousness though, I’m thrilled the book is out. Time Rep was a real labour of love to write, and the feeling of finally having a copy in my hands is indescribable. Just look how happy I am in the picture below, and you’ll see what I mean:

Me holding a book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, I do hope you enjoy it! Bye for now!


Could you be a Time Rep?

Well could you? Take the questionnaire below and find out!

1) How many friends do you have?

a) Hundreds. I’m more popular than Kevin Bacon

b) Only a few. I like to have a few close friends, and that’s it

c) None. I’m less popular than someone who doesn’t like Kevin Bacon

2) What car do you drive?

a) A BWM 6 series. It’s got a 650i six cylinder engine

b) A red one

c) I don’t have a car

3) What is your current occupation?

a) I’m a mega successful, high-flying city worker

b) I work in a zoo

c) I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that you might realise I don’t have a job

4) Why do you want to be a Time Rep?

a) To be famous and have lots of sex with other Time Reps at sexy Time Rep parties

b) What’s a Time Rep?

c) I don’t want to be a Time Rep actually

5) How off-putting would it be if we said you don’t actually get paid for being a Time Rep?

a) Er… pardon?

b) Pretty off-putting

c) Meh, whatever – I don’t want the job anyway

6) In the event of a universe-ending paradox threatening to destroy the very fabric of existence, what would you do?

a) Have sex with someone

b) Hide in a bush

c) Maybe try and stop it from happening?

7) Have you ever owned a Ben Sherman shirt?

a) I’m wearing one right now

b) Yes

c) A what?

8) If you found out that you were one of the most insignificant people that had ever lived, what would your reaction be?

a) I’d say there must be some sort of mistake. I’m a bit of a big deal around the office you know

b) I’m not that bothered – I have my friends and family and that’s all that counts

c) Tell me something I don’t know

9) What kind of tea do you drink?

a) Long Island Iced Tea, with all my banker chums down the bar after a long day on the golf course

b) Herbal tea, in a cup made from dried rosemary, recycled CD cases and twigs

c) They make more than one kind of tea?

10) What do you want out of life?

a) Fame, lots of sex, enormous wealth, more sex

b) I just want to have a nice life with good friends and family around me

c) No idea. I’m more confused about what I should be doing than a protestor at an anti-protest protest rally

How did you do?

Mostly a)’s: Sorry, this job is definitely not for you. Go back to the Corney & Barrow in Paternoster Square and order another Martini

Mostly b)’s: You seem like a nice, well rounded person with a good attitude towards life and a decent moral upbringing. This job is definitely not for you.

Mostly c)’s: You’re hired! Now, how would you react if we told you we were from the future?


The Time Rep Big Box Meal

I got a leaflet in the post the other day from Pizza Hut. It said “To celebrate the release of the new Superman movie Man of Steel, we’ve released a new big box meal!” Below was a picture of a square pizza in a box with some dips and a few sides. In fact, I managed to find a picture of it on the internet, and it looks like this:

Pizza

Look at the picture for a few moments. As you can see, it’s a square pizza in a box with some dips and a few sides. It certainly looks tasty in a kind of “I’m hammered and don’t care what I eat” sort of way, but what exactly does it have to do with Man of Steel? Is the pizza kryptonite flavour? No. Have they tried to recreate Superman’s cape and insignia with the toppings? No. So what was the connection? Then my eyes drifted towards the bottom of the leaflet and I saw it – the sentence that had clearly been dreamt up by one of Pizza Hut’s marketeers to tenuously connect the pizza with the movie. It read:

“It’s a heroic feast for 2-3 people.”

That’s the best they could come up with? Did someone really think “what a minute – Superman is heroic, and a meal for 2-3 people is heroic! It’s the common denominator we’ve needed to tie this whole campaign together!” After reading the leaflet, I looked up the definition of the word “heroic” on the internet. It said:

he·ro·ic 

Adjective: Having the characteristics of a hero or heroine; very brave.

Noun: Behavior or talk that is bold or dramatic.

Other uses: Can also be used to describe a meal for 2-3 people.

I guess I stand corrected. So it appears advertisers can now insert completely random words into a sentence to link two unrelated brands together. For instance, if another Star Trek Movie comes out, maybe Pizza Hut should do another big box meal and say “It’s an intergalactic meal for 2-3 people!” Of course, they’d have to change the meal about a bit, maybe replacing the wedges with some fries or something. Otherwise people will just realise it’s the same meal repackaged in a different box.

KFC are the absolute masters at this. It seems that every few months, there’s a new big box meal that comes out. It will be called something like the “Goliath Meal” or something, and the announcer in the TV advert will say: “The new GOLIATH meal from KFC: Burger, four chicken wings, fries, and a coke!” Then a few months later, there will be another new meal. This time, it will be called the “Mega Fill meal” or something, and the announcer in the TV advert will say: “The new MEGA FILL meal from KFC: Burger, three chicken wings, two fries, and a coke!” Then a few months later, a new meal will replace that. This time, it will be called the “Ginorminator meal”, and will be a burger, with FIVE chicken wings, no fries, and a Fanta. And the cycle will go on and on, with increasingly stupid names being linked to a series of meals that alternate the number of different components.

If Time Rep is ever made into a film, I hope KFC launch a big box meal to celebrate the release. It would be called the “TIME REP meal” and would be a burger, with two chicken wings, fries, and a coke. And beans. And it would look like this:

Time Rep Meal


Tips for writing dialogue

“I think I might do some tips on writing dialogue for my next blog entry,” I said, taking a seat next to my friend.

“Oh yeah, because you’re such an expert on writing dialogue,” my friend replied.

“Okay, okay – maybe I’m not exactly an expert, but I think some people might find it useful.”

“Oh yeah? And which people would that be? Ones who like taking advice from people who admit they aren’t an expert on a particular subject?”

“Yes,” I said. “Those people.”

“But there are hundreds of websites that already offer tips on how to write good dialogue! Why would anyone want to listen to you?”

“I don’t know,” I said, rubbing the back of my head. “Maybe if I thought of an original way to present the tips – something funny – people might read it…”

“Something funny?”

“Yeah.”

“Like what?”

I paused for a moment.

“Here’s an idea,” I said. “How about presenting the whole piece as if it were a section of dialogue itself?”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” my friend replied, “and I think you’re just trying to be funny for the sake of it. Can’t you just do bullet points like all the other websites? Everyone like bullet points…”

“That is true,” I agreed, “but this might work better.”

“I doubt it,” my friend said. “How would you start it?”

“I think I might do some tips on writing dialogue for my next blog entry.”

My friend blinked.

“I know – you’ve already told me that.”

“No, that’s how I would start it.”

My friend sighed.

“Oh dear,” He said, shutting his eyes. “This is going to be a long day. Okay – what would you do next?”

I smiled to myself.

“Well, I’d then run through our entire conversation up to this point.”

“The entire conversation?”

I nodded.

“But why would anyone want to read that? And besides – aren’t you supposed to cut out unnecessary dialogue from what people say in real life?”

“I don’t know – are you?”

“Yes. Because in real life, conversations are long and boring. Like this one, for instance.”

 “I disagree,” I said. “I think in certain circumstances it can work quite well to keep everything in. Makes it more real.”

“So what are your tips for writing dialogue then?” My friend asked.

“Well, I think the first one would be to read all your dialogue out loud,” I said. “For me, it’s the best way to understand the rhythm of what someone is saying. And if you find yourself tripping over any words, they’re probably not the right ones, so change them.”

“Are you going to read this out loud after you’ve finished writing it?”

“I guess.”

“You poor man. Okay, what’s the next tip?”

“I think it would be to remember the context in which your characters are talking,” I said.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Take the conversation we’re having right now. How we’re talking is fine, but that’s because we’re just sitting down, having a chat.”

“But we’re sitting down on a roller coaster!” my friend said. “And we just went round a loop-de-loop two seconds ago! Most people wouldn’t be having a conversation about writing dialogue at a time like this!”

“Yes, but we’re not normal people, are we? If we were running away from a murderer or in a hurry to get somewhere, we might not go into as much detail as we are now. In fact we’d probably not talk at all.”

“I wish we weren’t talking at all now,” my friend said, looking over his shoulder. “Where’s a rampaging murderer when you need one?”

“I think that leads nicely into my next tip,” I said, “which is to make sure your characters don’t over-explain everything.”

“Yeah, I hate it when writers do that,” my friend replied. “I think it happens when they get too close to the detail and feel they need their characters to deliver reams of exposition, just to make sure the reader gets the point. In real life though, people just don’t talk like that.”

“I think another common mistake is when people deviate from using ‘he said’ / ‘she said’ at the end of a sentence,” I announced, “and before you know it they’re using stupid words like ‘reasoned’, or ‘chuckled’, or ‘announced’.”

“Absolutely,” my friend exclaimed.

“Truth is, ‘he said’ / ‘she said’ works just fine, and most readers gloss over them as terms anyway. In fact, at times it’s best to have nothing at all – especially if you only have two people talking, and it’s clear who is saying what.”

“I disagree,” another voice interrupted. It was my second friend, who had been sitting behind us on the roller coaster the whole time. For some reason, neither me or my friend had chosen to acknowledge him in the conversation up to this point, so if you were only listening to what the two of us were saying, you wouldn’t have known he was there. What a strange conincidence!

He leaned forward to speak.

“There are some words you can use instead of ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ just fine.”

“Yeah – like ‘replied’.” My other friend replied.

“This is very confusing,” I said. “Can we keep this conversation to between two people please? Otherwise it’s going to be difficult for the reader to understand who is saying what when I write this all down.”

“Fine,” my second friend said, leaning back and crossing his arms. “I won’t say another word.”

“Where were we?” I said to my other friend who wasn’t the second friend who’d interrupted us for no reason.

“I think we were on the verge of killing ourselves,” my friend replied. “Or at least I was. Are we nearly done?”

“I think so,” I said. “I’ve only got one final point to make.”

“Thank God. So what’s that?”

“Use clipped sentences a lot.”

“Clipped sentences? What are they?”

“They’re the sentences that Microsoft Word doesn’t like.”

“Microsoft Word?”

“Yeah, you know – it underlines them in a green squiggly line because it thinks you’ve made a grammatical error.

“It does?”

“Yeah. So use lots of them.”

“So let me get this straight: what you’re saying is, if you’re using Microsoft Word to write your book, and there are lots of green squiggly lines all over it, it’s probably a sign that you’ve written some good dialogue?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Green squiggly lines are your friends.”


Coming up with a plot

So for the next entry in my series on writing, I thought I would talk about how to come up with a decent plot. After all, it’s one of the most important things to consider when writing, because every book is built around a good plot, right?

Wrong. The first thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily need a great plot – some of the best books I’ve read have been complete nonsense from a plot perspective, but stand up as some of the greatest works of literature nonetheless. All that matters is that you care what is happening to the people in the story, and for that you need good characters.

But I’ll come onto characters another time. For now, let’s just say that you’ve decided your book needs a decent plot to carry the story through to the end. I find this element of the writing process really hard, not least because most of the great plots have already been written – it is difficult to come up with something original these days, and if you need further proof of that, just look at how many Hollywood remakes there have been over the past few years, or even re-remakes. Even the most experienced storytellers are finding it hard, so if you are struggling, don’t despair – you are not alone!

So when I’m trying to come up with a plot, I try and keep the following five rules in mind. Now, there may be some of you who find the idea of applying rules to the process of creative writing to betray the principle of writing creatively, however in this case you should just obey these rules. Trust me – it will make your life waaaaaay easier:

1)      Treat your plot as its own character.

You know that point in writing where your characters are so well defined, they begin to do their own thing without you even realising it? Even though you are their creator, you no longer decide what they do – he or she now behaves in their own way in your mind, and you are merely writing it down. You know you have got to this stage with a good character, because if you do try and force them to do something that goes against their nature, you cannot reconcile it in your mind. It’s the same with a good plot – once a story arc has been nurtured to a certain point, it develops its own natural momentum, and you no longer need to think too hard about what happens next – the plot takes care of itself. Know when to spot that your plot is at this stage, and just let it happen.

2)      Don’t worry about where the story is going.

I know some writers try to plot out the entire story before they get started. They want to know about all the underlying themes, all the key plot points, all the twists, the ending, everything. They may want to use some dramatic irony to hint at things to come in the first stages of the novel, and for that, they need to know what’s actually going to happen. If you are someone who likes to write this way, then great. However, you mustn’t be afraid to just put pen to paper and get started if you’ve only got that initial idea, or a specific scene in mind, or even just a conversation between two characters, fleshing out everything from that starting point as you go.

I find it sometimes works better if you have no idea what is going to happen. After all, your central characters are not usually privy to future events, so if you as the author are in the same position, it can produce some interesting results. What’s more, there’s nothing like the thrill of your own story taking you by surprise! Some of the greatest turning points in classic stories have happened this way (Dan O’Bannon for instance had no idea he was going to come up with the chest-burster scene in Alien when he started writing it), but you have to be prepared to set off on your writing journey without knowing where it will go.

3)      Don’t be afraid of using clichés

Many authors like to think of themselves as being highly original. How many times have you sat in front of your manuscript, happily typing / writing away and thinking to yourself “No-one has ever thought of this before! I’m so clever!” Ok, maybe that’s just me. The downside of thinking this way is that you can be afraid of resorting to clichés. Now, you need to be careful not to fall back on them too much, but there is a reason clichés are clichés, and that’s because they work really well. Sometimes, the best and most satisfying way to resolve a plot point is to resort to a cliché, so don’t be afraid to do it.

4)      Obey the three act structure.

So you think you can be really innovative and write a story that spans four acts, or two acts, or one act? Or half an act? Don’t bother. The three act structure is the only way to go. Setup, confrontation, resolution. Plot points can drift between the different acts depending on the balance of your story, but as human beings, we like things in threes. The three act narrative is by far the most proven, and the most satisfying. So obey it as a structure for your book.

5)      Remember the eight-point arc.

Nigel Watts was a clever man, and he came up with the eight-point story arc in his book “Writing a novel and getting published”. The basic idea is that within your three acts, you should have eight points to your story arc. Now, there are loads more websites that talk about this with far greater authority than I ever could, so look them up. However, to give you a brief guide, they are as follows:

Stasis: This is where you establish the normal way of life for your characters and the particulars of your world. A good example of this would be when we meet Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Star Wars working on the farm, or Neo in The Matrix going to his dull job.

Trigger: Oh no! Something beyond the control of the main character has happened, and this has set our story in motion! Bear in mind that the trigger can be good (boy bumps into beautiful girl in the street) or bad (boy bumps into an alien invader in the street). Either way, this is the thing that sets our main character off on…

The quest: So the trigger leads to the quest, and the quest usually takes two main forms – make everything go back to normal (i.e. the hero defeats the invading aliens), or make things better (i.e. the girl falls in love with the hero and they go off and have lots of baby heroes.)

Surprise! This part of the story arc involves lots of stuff happening, and should take up most of the story. Here’s where you chuck in all your mysteries, discoveries, complications, etc. Basically stuff for the protagonist to overcome. And no deux ex machinas please – you should tread carefully between having something that catches the reader off-guard, but not something so ridiculous that it pushes the reader’s willingness to accept what is happening to breaking point.

Critical choice: In my opinion, this is by far and away the most important stage in any story. But what is it? Well, at a certain point in your story, your protagonist needs to make a pivotal decision. This is where we finally get to see how the character has developed since we were introduced to them at the beginning of the book, as a person’s true nature is often revealed when they are under the most pressure to make a decision. Nigel Watts is very clear on this point, and says that the critical choice must be a decision made by the character, taking them down a certain path – it cannot just be something that happens to them randomly. Think of a classic story, and it won’t take you long to see where the main character had to make a critical choice. It usually involves choosing between a good but difficult path, and a bad but easy one. Luke Skywalker not joining Darth Vader is a good one.

Climax: So your protagonist has made their choice, and goodness me was it a critical one! Ok – now it needs to lead to the climax. This is where your story peaks in terms of excitement! Death Star, anyone?

Reversal: This is what transpires as a result of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the way your characters behave – in particular your protagonist. Luke Skywalker finally uses the force! Neo can see the Matrix! Like with the “Surprise” element of your plot though, there should be no deus ex machinas here. As I said earlier, the story should evolve naturally, as though it were a character itself.

Resolution: Phew! The story is done, but now things are different. The resolution should show what the new “stasis” is – this can be good or bad depending on the critical choice, but for better or worse, your characters should have changed, and your story should be all tied up. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an open ending, but all your plot strands should be left in an appropriate state to end a book, leaving the reader either satisfied with the conclusion, or eager to find out more…

Anyway, there you go. Now we’re at the end of this entry, I suppose it’s customary to say something along the lines of “of course, these rules are just a guide, so feel free to write however you like”, but if you ask me, I wouldn’t stray from them at all.


Shameless plug

Ok, get ready for an onslaught of self-publicity – Time Rep is now available to pre-order in the iBookstore, using the incredibly easy-to-remember link below!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/time-rep/id652863776?mt=11

To find the actual “pre-order” button, you will need the following:

  • A pair of super-strength binoculars
  • Some sticky tape
  • Two magnifying glasses
  • Some masking tape
  • A low tolerance for pain

What to do:

1)      Take the binoculars and attach a magnifying glass to the end of each lens using your sticky tape.

2)      Once they are firmly attached, hold the apparatus over your eyes.

3)      Take the masking tape, and starting from the back of your head, wrap the tape around and around until the binoculars are stuck to your face. If you are under the age of 18, you may need help from a parent or guardian.

4)      Look at the pre-order page. You will now be able to see a very small, orange pre-order button in the top left corner of the screen.

5)      Click on the button. Congratulations! You have pre-ordered Time Rep!

If you still can’t see it, I’ve attached an image below that hopefully makes it clearer:

Image2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s also available to bloggers and early reviewers on Netgalley:

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/show/id/31767

I much prefer this page as it has a massive green “request” button slap bang in the middle of it. I understand many reviewers have already made requests for the book, so thank you. I hope you enjoy it. I am perfectly willing to send bribes in return for favourable reviews, so if you are like me and have no moral standards, contact me directly and I’m sure we can come to some sort of arrangement.

Finally, the book is now on Goodreads as well, so if you feel an overwhelming urge to add it to your “to-read” shelf, don’t hold back! Add away! The link is here:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17974332-time-rep

Ok, that’s enough about how everyone should pre-order Time Rep and give it great reviews. In order to give this post some balance, I feel I should also say something negative about it, so here goes: Looking back on the book, I think at least three of the jokes could have been funnier.

There! Balance has been restored!


Naming your characters

Picture the scene: You’ve just sat down at your computer / writing desk / typewriter, ready to start writing your book. So much preparation has led up to this moment – you’ve spent weeks working out the intricate plot details. Developed your character arcs. Thought about your underlying themes and the key messages you want to get across to the reader. So many details are buzzing around in your head that you feel your mind is about to burst if you don’t start writing something, and that moment has finally arrived.

You are ready to start on your book.

Only problem is, you can’t think of a name for your main character.

For some people this isn’t really a problem – they can just start writing with a substitute name like “Mr Poopy Bum Bum Head” until they think of a better one. And that’s fine, but if you’re anything like me, a character’s name needs to be finalised before you can start writing about them, unless of course you’re writing some highly pretentious avant-garde story where none of the main characters actually need names because it turns out at the end in a dramatic and poignant twist that they’re all actually leaves on a tree or something.

My problem is that I’ve got to know a character’s name before I know how they will behave, what their demeanour will be, and how they will react in certain situations. This is especially true if the characters happen to coincidentally share a name with someone I know or have met in real life. For instance, a characer called “Mark” will behave very differently from a character called “Dave”. That’s why I need them to have a name, and why the name needs to be right. It has to feel right. It has to sound right. It has to have the right rhythm when someone says it. Maybe I place too much importance in a name, but for me, the wrong name can really send a character off balance.

Naming the characters in a book is really hard. You think parents have it tough naming their child? Well how about doing that multiple times for every character in your book? Sure, the characters are fictional, whereas the child is a real person who will have to live with that name for the rest of their life, but it’s still bloody hard. So how do people go about it? Well, for me there are only five ways:

1)       Trial and Error

This is where you kind of have an idea of a first name, but then come up with a million surnames that you think fit the first name. The problem with surnames though, is that they can be anything from “Smith” to complete nonsense (like Bruntlefordworth), and if you think about any name hard enough, it begins to lose all meaning in your mind until it resembles more of a shape than a sound. At this point you go slightly mad and revert back to something familiar. This is a good method that works really well for coming up with obtuse names, but do be prepared to lose it a bit before you get there.

2)       The Charles Dickens School of the bleeding obvious

Charles Dickens didn’t like to leave much to the imagination when he named his characters. For instance, Mr Gradgrind (the Headmaster in Hard Times) wasn’t exactly somebody who encouraged his pupils to sit on bean bags all day plaiting each other’s hair. Gradgrind was someone emotionles; a man obsessed with cold, hard facts, you knew this immediately from his name. In a sense, his characterisation was complete once Dickens chose his name. So there you go – if you have a abusive husband in your story, you may want to go down the route of naming him Mr Hitgirl Badman Naughtyhead or something.

3)       Name them after someone famous

Does your central character share a trait with a real life figure? Or perhaps a famous figure in fiction? Then why not name them after that person? George Orwell did a mixture of this in 1984 by calling his protaganist Winston Smith – the “Winston” evoking the strength of Winston Churchill, with the “Smith” implying an everyman facet to his character. Clever huh? At worst, no-one will spot that you’ve done it, and at best people will think you are far better educated that you actually are for making such an intelligent connection between your character and a comparable person in real life. Just don’t make it too obvious by calling your hero “Geoffrey Obama” or soemthing.

4)       Make it up

This is my favourite method of naming characters. Just make it up. Try not to put too much thought into it and eventually you’ll hit something that sounds just right. Don’t force anything – just relax and let the name come to you. A forced name really shows if it has been dwelled on for too long. Let go of your concerns about how the name will be perceived by the reader and you’ll just open yourself up to  knowing when you’ve hit on the right names. And make sure you read them all out loud to work out how they will sound to the reader. Look all around you for random inspiration. Take a look at books of your shelf and merge the first name of one author with the surname of another. You’ll come up with some bonkers names that will make you laugh, but eventually you will get there. My friend Dunstable Huntyford swears by this method.

5)       Call them Dave or James

Everyone knows a Dave or a James, so just do that.

So that’s it – obviously there are many ways to go about deciding on a name for your character, but the methods above have always served me well…


How to deal with writer’s block

One of the most common pitfalls when it comes to writing a book, or any form of writing for that matter, (with the exception of writing a shopping list, which is quite straightforward if you know what you want) is dealing with writer’s block. Writer’s block has the power to stop any author in their tracks, no matter how experienced, talented or creative they are. I’ve certainly suffered from it in the past, to the extent where the writing of my first book Time Rep was put on hold for three years until I found a way to progress the story, so I thought it might be useful for other writers out there if I offered some hints and tips as to how to deal with it. Now, I’m not promising any silver bullets here (which wouldn’t work anyway since writer’s block is a mental condition, and as such not that bothered about being shot at), but these techniques have worked for me in the past, so they may work for you too.

But first, what is writer’s block? Wikipedia defines it as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity.” I define it as a condition that emerges when you sit down in front of your computer to do some writing, only to find that after seven hours all you’ve got to show for it is this:

Chapter one

Look familiar? I think we’ve all experienced something like this, haven’t we? But fear not! Dr. Ward* is here to offer you five simple ways to overcome writer’s block and continue with your work. Let’s begin, shall we?

1)       Remember you are not alone.

You’ve got friends, right? Use them. If you’re halfway through your story and you’re stuck, get them to read it and give you their thoughts. Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes will pick up on something you’ve missed, or come up with an idea you would never have considered. Also, don’t be too proud about having to come up with the whole story yourself. Whilst writing Note to Self, I was stuck halfway through the story for many months before my girlfriend suggested a different direction for it to go in. I listened to what she had to say, and within a few days I was writing at full steam again. Do bear in mind though that some friends have no idea what they are talking about, so just ignore them.

2)       Don’t be too hard on yourself

We all want our writing to be as perfect as possible, demonstrating how amazing we are with our use of language. Sometimes though, authors become so obsessed with getting it right first time, they put roadblocks up for themorgg – (sorry, the cat just jumped on my lap…) Where was I? Ah yes – sometimes, authors put roadblocks up for themselves, unwilling to progress untiff (now the cat is licking my hand as I type, which is very distracting…) What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t have to be right first time. If a particular section is holding things up, write it as best you can and move on. You can always correct it later, just as I haven’t done with this point.

3)       Beware of over-writing

This links back to the last point really. Some authors will finish a chapter, then write it again, and again, and again, and again. And no matter how many times they go over it, they’ll never be satisfied. I find it’s best to just write something once. Then it is fresh, and you can move onto the next bit. The more you focus on one particular section of your writing, the more you become bored with it, and less stimulated by your work overall, which allows for writer’s block to set in.

4)       Have a break!

I was having trouble thinking of how to start this point, so I stopped writing, went for a walk, had a cup of tea, and came back a couple of hours later. Unfortunately I still have no idea how to start writing about why taking a break now again can re-invigorate your writing, so that didn’t work. Normally it does though, so do that.

5)       Be prepared to ditch what you’ve written.

This is probably the most important point, which I will illustrate using a bad metaphor that I’m thinking of deleting because it’s not that good: Imagine you are driving to a party. You’ve memorised the route and are confident about the directions. But at some point, you accidentally take a wrong turn, and after a few miles you are lost. What would you do? Most people would turn the car around and drive back to a point in the route they recognised, then head off in the correct direction. But there will always be those who don’t want to admit the route they have taken is wrong, and will keep driving forwards, hoping that the party will miraculously appear around the next corner. It’s the same with writing. At some point, you may have to be brave and admit that the direction you’ve taken your story in isn’t working. Retreat back to where you knew what you were doing and head off the right direction.

That’s all for now – if you are someone who frequently suffers from writer’s block, then I hope these pointers have helped in a small way. Until next time!

* I do actually have a doctorate, in making up qualifications for myself


Benedict Cummerbund

It will come as no surprise to the three people out there reading this that I haven’t quite decided on what form this blog should take yet. So far, the only thing my posts have had in common is that they both talk about the fact that they are part of a blog. In other words, they both break through the fourth wall in a mildly amusing, self-referential way. But I can’t keep that up forever – if I only ever write a blog about having a blog, eventually the text will condense in on itself in a big ball of words, turn into a black hole, and swallow the universe. And then I’m really going to struggle to get more readers, unless there are some people living beyond the known plane of existence, on the lookout for a blog written by an author who hasn’t had his books published yet.

Which, let’s be honest, is unlikely.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to write about something other than the blog itself. Now, the astute of you out there will realise I’ve already blown it with this very post, however you’ll be pleased to know that I have been thinking up some new rules and groundbreaking ideas for my next entry. Some of these ideas are quite radical and may scare a few of you, but here they are nonetheless:

1)       Stop making excuses to have some sort of list in every blog entry. They were funny at first, but now you’re only using them to make what you’ve written look longer because you can have lots of line breaks.

2)       Having said that, the lists can be funny if you immediately contradict the previous point, so if you are going to have a list, make sure you do that.

3)       Think more about what you are writing. Don’t just sit bleary-eyed at the computer at 8.19 on Sunday morning, typing out a stream of consciousness and uploading it to the site…

4)       … Or if you do, don’t tell anyone that’s what you’ve done.

5)       You are now in the stage where you are waiting for the books to come out, so why not use this opportunity to talk to people about how that feels? What is it like waiting to see what the cover designs will look like? What other things do you have to do as an author in the run-up to a book launch?

6)       Write about some famous people in the blog so that more people might accidentally stumble upon your site looking for someone they’ve actually heard of. A good list of names you might want to think about randomly dropping into an upcoming post to get a decent cross-section of visitors are: Vic Reeves, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Brooker, Stephen King, George Lucas, Beckie McDonald from Coronation Street, Barack Obama, Tony Stark, Angelina Jolie, ‘H’ from Steps and the Pope. Also, if you’re struggling to think of a title for a blog post, why not just use a celebrity’s name at random?

7)       Put more pictures of the cat in, because people love cats.

8)       Check your spelling, because you had to correct the last post twice after uploading it. If you’d actually had some readers who immediately read everything you uploaded, it would have been embararassing.

That’s what I’ve come up with for now, so expect to see some (if not all) of these ideas having an influence on my next entry. In the meantime, here’s another picture of my cat Matilda, this time looking as though she’s just been caught trying to make herself longer than the cushion:

Matlida

Until next time!