Writing A Character Series.

Check out this excellent Guardian newspaper article interviewing a host of essential authors writing in the detective genre.

Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Val McDermaid, Ann Cleeves, and others talk about how they came to write their series and the impact of doing so.


Day 463 – Sunday Reflection.

I’ve been busy revamping my study.

Basically, I’ve got rid of more stuff I had forgotten I even had, or had kept because it might be useful at some point. I decided that some point had been reached and that the stuff wasn’t useful after all.

A family desk taken by my eldest son, freed up space for an armchair I’ve been looking at with fondness for a while now. I write at a standing desk, but I was hankering after a seat to muse, imagine, read, in.

I thoroughly recommend a standing desk if you don’t usually use one. Some are very pricey but mine is about the size of your laptop and does the job perfectly.

Revamping and tidying up are often necessary but also serve as perfect actions for not writing.

I sway between being really frustrated when I don’t write and just accepting that sometimes my brain needs a pause to fix something in a story, or make the necessary links to the next stage of the story.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I don’t plot/plan in a James Patterson kind of way. Once the plot is down on paper then I know the story and my brain is off to the next one. The discipline to then take an extended plot and write it up into the finished novel eludes me. Be honest though, James Patterson probably feels the same way, which is why he has all of those co-authors.

I plan more like Lee Childs. I turn up, like Jack Reacher (okay – like a Jack Reacher who has been placed on too warm a wash cycle than the label directs!), meet a couple of people – good or bad – and the rest happens from there.

I am currently writing something new and it is requiring a little more thinking than I am used to. I think? Or I am doing a good job of pulling the wool over my own eyes. Sometimes, kicking back into the habit of hitting a word count each day, no matter what, really does get the job done.

I confess that all my normal habits have gone a bit wayward, with the only one remaining intact is the one where I listen to a new album everyday. Writing 1000 words a day has become disjointed. French language learning hasn’t been learnt for almost three weeks now. Exercise has not been what it should be. I have read more, and listened to podcasts and audio books more frequently.

My cotton-wash-when-it-should-have-been-a-wool-wash Reacher gives a Gallic shrug (as he can’t remember the phrase he was looking for) and wanders off into the night to regain his writing habit and his credibility . . .

Day 455 – The Saturday Answer.

So the Friday Question was . . .

. . . Why didn’t you achieve what you planned to during this last week?

And my Saturday Answer is . . .

. . . Stuff and illness. The latter is pretty straight forward. I netted myself some rogue bug which seems to have effected absolutely no one else within my close proximity. The former is a mixture of changed plans, plans no one told me about, disruptions and interruptions, lack of focus, distractions and other attractions.

None of this forms any meaningful excuse but is just what it is. It was up to me to work my way through all of this and still produce.

I am even more of the opinion that a shed at the bottom of the garden is a good idea, but have you seen how much sheds, worthy of creative endeavours at the bottom of the garden can cost? I think I can afford a bivy-bag underneath a bush.

However, I am writing something new and it seems to be going okay. I’ve gone back to the Lee Child method of plot development and it feels good. I’m especially happy with the fact that each seen is essential – I haven’t written a bunch of nice scenes which aren’t really necessary – and the plot is moving quickly along, with each of the characters asking questions. Well, that’s how I see it anyway?

A few other things which can wait for the Sunday Reflection, so catch you tomorrow!

Day 412 – Investment.

What’s your investment in your creative endeavour?

The Number One Bestselling Thriller writer Lee Child had been fired from his TV job so sat down to write a novel which sold. The alternative was his wife’s suggestion that he could be a ‘reacher’ in a supermarket.

He was pretty invested in getting that book finished and finding a publisher.

What about you?

To be invested you don’t need to be on the verge of plunging your family out onto the street, but I would suggest you do need a reason to be serious about what you are doing.

It might be that it is your lifelong ambition to get one of your paintings hung in a gallery. Great. Tell me which gallery and by what date?

You think you can write a better screenplay that the one you just sat through for two hours and wasted the ticket price on? Great. Write it and submit it.

Your investment is what you didn’t do to achieve your goal. Time. Money. Relationships.

Skulking off to your creative cave for the odd ten minutes to type a paragraph or mix some paint, or strum a few chords, isn’t investment.

It’s like the Matrix. The blue pill is you play creative. The red pill is you chase your creativity down that rabbit hole.

Writer or Reacher?

Which one will you be?

Day 399 – Writing Like . . .

One of the best ways for a writer not to write is to do research.

The best kind of research for a writer not to write is to research how other writers write.

Or don’t write.

Being able to counteract your wife’s accusatory statement of ‘I thought you said you were writing?’ As the reason why you weren’t doing all of those jobs in the garden, it is helpful to counter with ‘but this is how Stephen King writes!’

Okay, bad example – Stephen King would be writing!

‘Research’ on YouTube led me to Kate Cavanaugh.

In her Writing Vlog she has tried to spend a day writing like famous authors. She has done, amongst others, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, and Nora Roberts.

Kate scours the internet and puts together as much information as she can about the daily routine of the particular author she has chosen, then attempts to work like them, recording her experiences as she goes.

Check out the videos.

Then when you’re done doing that, tell me who you would spend a day writing like?

Kate has done Haruki Murakami which would have been one of my choices. I would go for Lee Child – I could match him for coffee but the cigarettes would either kill me or give me a habit which would ultimately have the same outcome.

I think I will try writing like Ray Bradbury.

What I Gained From NaNoWriMo.

Back in October 2017 I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – which is a challenge to write a 50,000 word (plus) novel during the month of November.

Spoiler alert – I achieved the 50,000 words by November 26th and ended up on 53,740 words by the 30th. However, the story is still unfinished, which is part of what I am going to talk about here, but I am also going to talk about what worked really well and why you to should take up the challenge in 2018.

At first the thought of writing a minimum of 1,667 words per day, for 30 days straight is quite daunting. What about time off for writer’s block, or creative impasse, or finding cool videos on social media.

Unless you are a full-time writer, you have to find enough time between your family and your day job, to get the word count in. You could write less during the week and then double or triple up on the weekend, but I figured that also double or tripled the stress of trying to hit the word count. So I stuck to the minimum 1,667 words a day.

What did work was announcing my intention to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge and the fact that until the word count was in I would need to be a bit selfish and shut the door to my study. My family were very supportive and very relieved when I hit the word count early!

What also worked, was that I began to write quicker.

You have probably read that Anthony Trollope set his watch upon his desk and wrote 250 words every fifteen minutes? I used to manage about 500 words in just under an hour and thought I was doing well! About ten days into the challenge I was writing between 340-420 words every fifteen minutes.

How? I took fifteen minutes out of my lunch break and wrote as fast as I could! Whatever word count was left then got completed once I was home, the time pressure here being that my wife’s happiness with me equated to how quickly I hit the target and therefore how much time I spent with her.

Both sets of time pressure had their advantages.

From quite early on I was managing to go just beyond the daily target, as you can see below:


What happened after I hit the 50,000 word mark, is another matter, however. Somehow the focus engendered by the word count dissipated once it was achieved. My brain didn’t seem to mind overly that the story wasn’t quite finished yet.

The need to write at least 1,667 words a day was apparently gone. Hence the fact that I am still finishing the story off. A positive by-product of this seeming failure is actually a) I am currently completing the story, and b) I’ve read Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work and plan to use the story to write a series of blog posts about the writing of the book.

In the past, I generally have plotted out my stories in reasonable detail – as most writerly advice tells you to do – but I found that this led to my creative brain seeing that the story was complete and the undisciplined actually-writing-the-whole-thing-down-on-the-page part of me was quite happy to agree and not follow through on the whole writing it all down part.

I eventually overcame this tendency when I learnt that International Best Seller Lee Child just sat down and wrote. Obviously, he had the basics in place, but the route to the end was a journey for him, just as it is for us when we first read the books. I started writing with the basics in mind and let the character and situations they ended up in do the rest.

Result? I started finishing my stories!

With only 30 days and 50,000 words to write, I decided I might need a bit more rigour than ‘see where it all goes’ and decided to have a more secure plot. I picked a basic seven section structure and developed out my basic idea to fit that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I veered away from the content I had mapped out from these sections as the characters took on more life and took over the plot a little. The sections remain essentially in place, but the route has lengthened somewhat.

The basic structure certainly helped and allowed me to write quickly, through knowing the direction and way markers I needed to hit. But I think the main thing that helped me to write quickly was a combination of using 1st-person narrative and not worrying about the sentences being perfect. I knew I was going to be editing at the end, and my main priority was to actually get there.

Once you have signed up to the NaNoWriMo official website and register your novel, then you can access the word count and stat checker, which gave you the numbers and graphical affirmation that you had met, or surpassed, your daily target. Once the numbers were in and confirmed on the screen, then you could step away from the keyboard.

You obviously don’t need to wait for November to try this out yourself and that is one of the lessons I have learnt from the experience.

Decide to write the story. Give yourself a deadline which will stretch you. Let those closest to you know what you are doing and what the time frame is. Get those words down as fast as you can.

The final two lessons are to reset the deadline if you haven’t finished the story and have a similar deadline for editing when you really have finished.


Ballard, Bosch, Reacher.

News on my three favourite characters in fiction came out yesterday.

Michael Connelly revealed that his next book will see his new heroine Renée Ballard team up with his most famous hero Harry Bosch. I guarantee fans of Connelly are trying to find ways to shorten the months so October gets here quicker. News broke of the book’s title Dark Sacred Night and a brief synopsis on his website:

Dark Sacred Night

On the same day, Lee Child revealed the title of the 23rd Jack Reacher novel via his Facebook feed. The novel, out in November, will be called Past Tense and will set Reacher searching the past and his father.

Past Tense

Ballard, Bosch, Reacher. Dark Sacred Night. Past Tense.

I don’t think the year is going to fictionally get better than this.


The Finished Artwork.

Artists do art and the final work is what the viewers see and judge.

Well that is how it used to work.

More and more recently there is a trend of the viewer or the reader or listener becoming more and more interested in the process of the artwork.

The internet and social media clearly play their part here.

Singers and musicians release snippets of the songs they are working on. Painters show their canvases in process. Writers . . .

Writers still tend to be quite secretive about their progress and process.

They might reveal a novel title early-ish. Perhaps an Instagram photo of the writer out of town might give a clue to a location for the story. If you are lucky, maybe you get a ‘down to the last 30,000 words’!

Television programs such as Masterchef and Bake-off, Portrait and Landscape Artist of the Year, are all drawing their audiences into the the process of the thing, rather than simply the product.

A couple of years ago I came across a YouTube video of Moby which documented the process he went through to create a song, with the added pressure of a time limit – he absolutely smashed it, by the way.

For me as a writer it was the the book, Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin. Academic Andy Martin managed to get Lee Child to agree to having his shoulder overlooked whilst he wrote the twentieth book in his best selling series.

After reading this book, I wrote my first complete novel, within three months. I had read the previous nineteen Jack Reacher novels and loved them, but the final products hadn’t created the spark which enabled me to complete my first novel.

So why don’t we, as writers, agree to share more of the process of writing.

The audience is there, I’m sure.

And I will begin . . .


Five Friends Continued.

In my last post, Five Friends, I put a spin on the old saying that you are a reflection of your five closest friends.

I asked you to consider who your five closest writers were.

I thought it only fair to invite you into the circle of my five closest authors.

  1. Ray Bradbury – My first introduction to Mr. Bradbury was through a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, borrowed from my father’s bookcase. I must have read it over a hundred times before I was out of my teens. Then came the short story collections and Fahrenheit 451. I love the fact that he really does let his imagination take over and you are often presented with something which seems like the world you are familiar with but then he adds the twist.
  2. Lee Child – The first Lee Child book I read was Without Fail, which was bought for me by my youngest son from a school fair when he was only six or seven years old. It is still my favourite Jack Reacher book. Anyone who reads a Reacher story, immediately wants to be Reacher. It is because of Lee Child that I completed my first novel, after reading Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin. Martin basically peered over the shoulder of Lee Child whilst he was writing the novel Make Me and asked him lots of questions. Learning that it was okay to write not quite knowing where you would end up really helped me complete a story or even begin it to start with. Following normal writers’ advice and plotting in detail left with a sense that the story was completed and my brain had already moved onto the next idea before writing any sentences of the first idea.
  3. Haruki Murakami – I picked up Norwegian Wood, in its replica form of the Japanese original in the two-part red and green books. This was quickly followed by Sputnik Sweetheart, and South of the Border, West of the Sun. I have all of his books, including a signed first edition of Kafka on the Shore, which my wife bought for me. Murakami’s style of blending coming of age stories with a sense of the mysterious, is very much in the Ray Bradbury way of story telling. He also owned a jazz bar and likes coffee – why wouldn’t I include him?!
  4. Michael Connelly – I will confess that I had not read any of Connelly’s work until after I had seen the first season of Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. Now I am hooked on both the tv series and the novels of Harry Bosch. His new character of Renée Ballard in The Late Show is an instant hit as well. I love the way Connelly’s novels are so detailed in procedure and description of place; even though these are the two biggest weaknesses in my own writing. Bosch’s need to right wrongs, no matter what the cost, is very compelling.
  5. P.G. Wodehouse – My wife takes the credit for this one! Wodehouse is her favourite author, especially Jeeves and Wooster, and Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle. I can’t tell you the number of hours in which these characters have rattled around my head via audiobooks. What has remained is the flow of the conversations between the characters and the simple but effective plotting. If you haven’t encountered Wodehouse then what are you waiting for?

So, there you go. My famous five. Along with a few simple reasons why.

I look forward to hearing about your five.

Where You Live.

In, British designer and tv presenter, Kevin McLoud’s 43 Principles of Home, he makes the following observations in Principle 16,

Make the context of where you live part of your narrative . . . Research local history . . . Memorise your landmarks . . . Study the flora, fauna, and geology of your place . . .

And most importantly,

Invent a story for your place.

So what is the story of your place?

I confess to being poor at the background setting and surroundings. For me a building is a building and the number of floors might make a difference if I need the protagonist to jump off, but I’m not to fussy about the name or the colour or any other feature of significance.

However, for many novels and stories, the place is significant.

Reviewers and journalists write of Inspector Morse’s Oxford, or Rebus’ Edinburgh. Lee Child gives the latest place Jack Reacher visits a name and some curious quirk of past history, even if he does confess to making some of it up on occasion.

So, consider giving your story’s location an overhaul in terms of location information.

Readers seem to like being able to fix a story to a particular location.

Or, consider where you live and, as per Principle 16, invent a story for right there.