Fifty Shades of Writer

There are as many kinds of writer out there as there are writers themselves, but for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on I have tried to create a system to categorise them. I do this in the full knowledge that we all lie somewhere on a Venn diagram made of soup and mist, and that we will shift across its roiling surface from day to day, minute to minute, few of us ever settling at any point within the complex matrix.

The categories I put forward are as follows:

Water Around the Stone: Wise man say, “Be like water around the stone, not the stone in water.” This is a rare and blessed state to find oneself in. When the planets align and the wind is just right and all the universes find a moment of perfect balance, the writer is in a very fine place indeed. They flow, unimpeded towards their destination. Slick prose drips from the fingertips like honey and the keyboard hums under fingers that caress it with a lover’s ease. The backspace key develops a form of autophobia; a fear of being alone or ignored, but the writer cares not for that obsolete relic above the return key. Here on their heady mountain top the view is only forward, never back.

Some writers spend most of their careers in this zone. They are universally despised by all others.

The Stone in Water: (See above) This stubborn soul wants to finish this chapter with a flourish and by jingo, they’re not writing another word beyond it until they have done. When not chewing on their bloodied knuckles they will stare at the screen for hours, focusing on nothing as though the answer will be revealed as from one of those magic-eye pictures from the 1990’s. IT’S A DOLPHIN! They might scroll through the endless inanity of Facebook, Tweet about their cat, cut that ragged nail that has been plaguing them because that should certainly bring about the inspiration needed. I mean, they could come back to this bit later, and get on with the plot in the meantime, but that right there is ‘quitter talk’ and they weren’t raised to be no quitter!

Any moment now. Any…moment…ooo, a compilation of funny Tiktoks!

The Jigsaw Writer: A complex creature who struggles to hold a single point within the narrative for more than a few sentences. Thinking of a witty remark for the protagonist to make in chapter 17, whilst building the character in chapter 2 is no problem to the Jigsaw Writer. They have a system of notes and a meticulous timeline plotted out before them, oh yes they do, and the post-its, pages, scrawls and scribbles on their desk and walls are in no way a sign of a burgeoning insanity and nothing like the squalid bedsits of conspiracy theorists and serial killers, no!

It’s a system!

The Grinder: Not the dating app, the writer. This brave individual moves forward, but in the same way that a glacier jogs down the hill. Agonising words are drawn out so slowly that time itself wants to run backwards, straining the fabric of reality. If you have ever experienced a sense of time dragging, then likely as not there is a ‘Grinder’ at a keyboard in your vicinity, forming a dimple in space-time. Out of every three words written, two are deleted. The backspace key is so worn that it now reads ‘Ba     ce’ but we’re making progress, aren’t we? Another coffee should help because if there is one thing a caffeine-raddled brain needs, it’s another kick in the prefrontal cortex with a Columbian boot.

With enough coffee or Pinot Grigio, a Grinder can quickly become…

The Boris: Blundering on, full of misplaced confidence and leaving carnage in their wake. This writer can produce 10,000 words of gibberish in a single sitting, certain that theirs will be hailed as the next great work of literature. Caffeine and alcohol can make a writer feel like ‘Water around the Stone’ and for a time, they soar, but like all substance-induced highs there is a price to pay, and the bill is in the post. The resulting hangover is best treated with a healthy serving of humble pie. All writers have ‘Borissed’ from time to time and the best of us are able to repair the damage. For others, only the skilled hand of a competent editor can save the day.

So, there we have it, submitted for peer-review. Let me know if I’ve missed you out.

Writing: The Lonely Profession?

As I write this it is the 30th of November 2020, and tomorrow is book launch day!

Shattered Steel

Of course, 2020 has been blighted by Covid-19 and so it will be a low-key affair, but it’s worth remembering that, as gripes go, it could be a whole lot worse.

Anyway, left alone in my writing cupboard trying to tie up all the loose ends and making sure I have remembered to hit the publish button on multiple websites, I was thinking about the idea of writing as an isolating pastime.

I thrive on being left alone. I am happy in my own head and find it difficult or downright impossible to write much when there are others in the house, except for those rare occasions when I find myself well and truly ‘in the zone’. I do my best thinking and plotting when alone on a dog walk (the dog doesn’t count as company since he doesn’t talk back) or staring at the ceiling above my desk, and from the outside it could appear quite lonely.

So, is it?.

Apart from the myriad characters nesting in my brain, which exist most of the time not as voices in my head but as faces pressed against a window, I also have the pleasure of working with people I would never have met otherwise.

Most of these collaborations are done in the virtual world of email and Whatsapp, but they are still relationships that I would never otherwise have formed. Behind every book there is an army of proof-readers, an editor, an artist, a graphic designer and in one case, a film maker.

I get insights into other people’s bubbles, little glimpses behind the curtains of crafts I had always taken for granted. I can share ideas with creative people on other continents as they sit at their desks and stare at their ceilings, (perhaps that’s just me) with results that are always better than anything I could dream up alone.

The Rage Within’ has entered production to be turned into an audiobook, and again, a whole new world of talented and creative people has been opened up, along with new learning curves to climb.

So, is writing a lonely profession?

Certainly not.

There are far too many people involved.

A hill on which to die

There are times when language fails us, and we struggle to find the right words to express an emotion, a movement, or a mood. Some writers, when faced with such a barrier, simply make something up and rely on context or onomatopoeia to give the new word meaning.

Lewis Carroll gave us galumphing and chortle in such a way, and the words have stuck and remain in fairly common use. (If you don’t use the word galumphing, then you should.)

Further back, William Shakespeare gave us lacklustre, dauntless, and the use of the word elbow as a verb. There is after all, no more concise and evocative a way of describing the action of elbowing one’s way into a crowd than using the word ‘elbow’.

Of course, every word has its own story of origin and first use and the world of etymology is a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into.

Apart from a long list of fictitious place names, I am not one to invent new words willy-nilly (first known use in 1608) but then I am not a master of the art as Carroll and Shakespeare clearly were.

This blog post is about an existing word that does not get out as much as it should and is largely forgotten in much of the English-speaking world. Like many words, it has no synonym that carries the exact same meaning and cannot be replaced without resorting to an entire phrase.

That word is ‘outwith’.

The Collins Dictionary describes ‘outwith’ as follows:




mainly Scottish

outside; beyond

So there we have it.

The steam hammer, the Sterling heat engine, the telephone, logarithms, roller printing, tarmac, the bike, the thermodynamic cycle, the television, the flushing toilet, the refrigerator, the vacuum flask, deep fried pizza and the word ‘outwith’.

Just a very few of the gifts bestowed upon the human race by the Scots. (There are more here too! )

‘Outside’ is close but does not convey any emotion. ‘Outwith’ means more than that.

‘I am outside the castle walls.’ A statement of fact. A position.

‘I am outwith the castle walls.’ A position again, but this time there is a feeling of loss; a yearning to be within.

‘I am outwith the protection of the castle walls.’ Now there is real emotion. Looming threat perhaps.

‘I am outside the protection of the castle walls.’ Too physical and has lost the ephemeral quality of the former.

‘Outwith’ means to be at once ‘outside’ and ‘without’ and there is no other single word that conveys this.

I use it often in my writing, and every time I do MS Word prompts me to change it. I could add it to my personal dictionary and never be prompted again, but that would be admitting defeat. I even went as far as messaging Microsoft to see if they would see sense and accept it into the fold as a fully recognised word and not some fringe oddity. My request was passed onto some ‘team’ or other which I assume is tech-speak for recycle bin.

Every time I see that little red squiggly line under the word I feel a little rebellious shiver and imagine myself as Lewis Carroll undoubtedly did when his slythy toves first gyred and gymbled in the wabe.

And if I need to die on this hill, outwith the sanctioned boundaries of an ever-evolving language, then so be it.

Who’s with me?

Book trailers

(This is an old blog from my previous website. Having relocated the domain to WordPress, I’m trying to get to grips with the new environment prior to the next book launch. I still feel that the content below is relevant though.)

So, You Want to Make a Book Trailer.

Do books even need them? I suppose that’s the first question to answer before diving in. I know that many will think that the written word and Youtube videos are mutually exclusive, and in some ways they are right. I also know that books are up against some fierce competition for people’s attention, as TV, gaming and other entertainment become more accessible in the home and on the move via smartphones and tablets. So I see no reason not to metaphorically reach out from a Youtube app or webpage in order to grab a potential reader by the collar and shout, “LOOK! A BOOK!”

Having decided to make one for my second novel, I set about working from scratch knowing nothing at all about the hows and whys, and there was a lot more to it than I expected. I am by no means an expert but I will share my thoughts for what they’re worth. It’s not an exhaustive list or step by step guide, and it may not even be entirely right for every writer or every book, but it’s based on observations I have made and on what I have learnt along the way.

As I say, I’m no authority on the subject, having only been involved in one to date, so would like to hear from anyone who has had other experiences. Please feel free to comment/discuss and post links to your own trailer or to trailers you think work/don’t work (but be nice, I’m not interested in rubbishing the work of others).

  1. Watch other book trailers in your own genre and others. Think about what you liked and didn’t like. What worked, and what put you off.
  2. Think of the trailer as something like the Blurb on the jacket of the book. It needs to grab the viewer’s attention, and give them a sense of what the book is about. It needs to convince them that the book is at least worth looking into. It is entirely likely that most people will not actually be browsing for a book when they see the trailer, so it has to distract them from what they were doing and get them to click on a link or at least be memorable enough to lodge in their mind for later on. Remember that if you are using Youtube advertising, people can skip the ad after 5 seconds, so use that time well, as they really want to get on to that clip of the man falling over his dog or the ‘how-to’ video for removing red wine stains from a cream-coloured carpet. Go for a strong opening to snare the viewer.
  3. It’s the blurb, not a full synopsis. Try to keep it short. I often glance down at the little progress bar at the bottom of the clip, just to see how long it is. Adverts lasting 3 or 4 minutes are not going to keep me from watching that funny cat video. One minute ought to do it.
  4. It’s not a movie trailer, so don’t try to produce something that Peter Jackson would be proud of. A tone, or mood can be created with sounds and imagery relevant to your book. But…
  5. Don’t skimp on costume/props. If they are required for any part of the trailer, then try hiring from a local theatre group or else buy what you need. You can usually sell it again for close to what you paid for it on Ebay or similar. The point is, poor costume and props lead to poor imagery, and this will create a bad impression of the book. Genres that require specialised and unique props/locations/costume, such as science fiction, fantasy and military, might require some creative thinking. A large battle for example: don’t try to recreate the opening scene for ‘Saving Private Ryan’, but instead focus on a few elements; the tension in a soldier’s face, a shifting grip on a rifle, and let sound effects and narration do the rest. Create a mood with simple sounds and imagery rather than trying to dazzle the audience cinematically.
  6. If you’re using actors, can they act? And assuming you don’t have any Hollywood A-listers on speed-dial, can you use friends and family in such a way that it does not look wooden? Making convincing film is far more difficult and complex than you might think. I avoided speaking parts altogether, and kept movement to a minimum. Sometimes, abstract imagery can be far more powerful than attempting to act out a scene from your story.
  7. Accept the fact that you may have to pay someone to help. The trailer is a way of increasing sales and should be seen as an investment (time and probably money). Getting a voice actor to do narration for example is not as expensive as you’d think, and will sound professional and clear. Likewise filming, if you have scenes that need to be captured on camera they will almost always look better when a professional is behind the lens. Look around for independent film makers, there are some about and they don’t necessarily need to have anything to do with your genre. (My cameraman usually makes mountaineering/rock climbing films)
  8. There are plenty of sites that offer stock footage and photos that you can use, as well as soundtracks and sound effects. I used for the music but there are others, so look around. Try Videoblocks or iStockphoto for example.
  9. Include an easy link in the trailer for people to get the book straight from their browser. In Youtube advertising you can usually only link to a site you have ownership of, (or a Google+ page/Youtube Channel) so be sure your homepage or wherever you link to has a very obvious way of buying the book. People don’t want to be hopping from site to site in order to get to a place they can buy it.
  10. If you do it all yourself, make sure you get a few other opinions on it before letting it loose. Others may spot quite easily what you have missed.
  11. Get it out there. Get it seen. Share on social media. Consider using paid for advertising to increase its reach. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of using AdWords (Youtube advertising), but making the investment is something to think about, particularly if you have several books or a series to sell. From my limited experience, the cost per click versus the number of sales that I got result in those interactions was not very favourable in the short term, but the long term effectiveness is more difficult to measure. Alternatively look into having it placed on specific websites relevant to the book, either through payment or a reciprocal arrangement with a fellow writer.

Well, that’s what I think. Please comment, ask questions, share experiences and links, agree, disagree, discuss…..

A new beginning.

Starting a new website with a new blog, and hoping it all sticks. It’s never easy setting up a new site unless that’s your thing, and worst of all, even as I type this I’ve no idea if it will work at all. The second book in the ‘Arise the Darkness’ series is just around the corner and I am taking the opportunity to spruce things up a little. Having pulled at the rough edges, I’ve revealed a whole host of hidden horrors and hence the overhaul.