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Archive for the category “Writing a Novel”

Writer Meets Research

IMG_7909 Ribblehead Viaduct croppedFrom the instant the wheels of the London train began to cross the twenty-four arches of the Ribblehead viaduct, it seemed everything Mary had ever known fell behind and no one seemed even to care. Every thud served a stab to her heart like each span were crumbling, blocking her way back. When they reached the far side of the bridge, it struck her that every moment passing instantly becomes a memory. Worse, she became only a memory to it too and all trace of the reality either side knew—gone.

It seems a lifetime ago since I first wrote those words into my adult historical novel. They spoke of a place I’d never seen, but one I had a great affinity for through both my characters’ journey south from Glasgow to London early in 1914 and following in the footsteps of, or close to, my grandmother and great-grandparents when they journeyed to Australia, just prior to World War One, from their tiny pit village in Scotland to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in Australia.

That journey is the impetus for my novel. Though the plot and characters are entirely fictitious, it is a small nod to my forebears and my heritage. A story born of whispers when I first visited the reconstructed State Coal Mine site in Wonthaggi back in 2008.

P1010591 Yorkshire DalesmanSo it was my utter thrill to return to Scotland recently and take the steam rail journey on the Yorkshire Dalesman from Skipton to Carlisle and cross the Ribblehead Viaduct and see for myself this amazing landscape and piece of history. The views, I suspect, are not so very different from the vista a century ago when my family travelled the same rails.

P1010611 Yorkshire DalesWe were lucky to experience a fabulous blue sky day and witness the etchings of clouds on the hillsides and valley floors. I wasn’t the only one catching flitters of coal grit and straining for a look (photo opp) out the window. Our fellow travellers appeared seized with a like excitement and thrill. For me it held a deeply personal resonance and I found my eyes prickling at the double whammy of life meeting art, and the timeliness. I’m sure my ancestors experienced an even greater excitement, perhaps fear, heading for a new land, rather than a delicious bistro lunch and glass of vino.

The viaduct was built between 1870 to 1874 by over one-hundred navvies (manual labourers) who set up camps and shanty towns on the land around the site, which is now a scheduled archaeological monument. Over one-hundred men died during in its construction through accidents and illness and lie alongside an equal number of their women and children in nearby cemeteries.

The viaduct is 400 metres long and sits 32 metres at its highest point. It is breathtaking to see and a credit to the workmanship and hardship endured by those who built it. And to those who dared travel its breadth and beyond.

P1010559 Chris Bell Yorkshire DalesmanOnce again it reminded me of the courage and exertions of our forebears and how very, very lucky I am to all these years later to have had the opportunity to experience the same journey and tiny part of the history for myself.

If you’d like a small taste of a similar journey crossing the viaduct, please check out the Youtube video below.

 

Dangerous Research on The Burning Sea – Sean McMullen

Sean McMullenToday I am delighted to welcome Sean McMullen back to From Hook to Book to celebrate the launch of his latest fantasy novel The Burning Seathe first of six books in The Warlock’s Child series, co-authored by Paul Collins and published by Ford Street Publishing.

Fans will be thrilled to learn that they won’t have to wait long for the following five books in the series, one due to be released each month April through September.

Congratulations againSean, and thank you very much also for sharing some of your research methodology and tips below, as well as a few traps that I recognise all too well.

First a little background: Sean sold his first stories in the late 1980s and has become one of Australia’s top science fiction and fantasy authors. In the late 90s he established himself in the American market, and his work has been translated into Polish, French, Japanese and other languages.The settings for Sean’s work range from the Roman Empire, through Medieval Europe, to cities of the distant future. His work is a mixture of romance, invention and adventure, while populated by strange but dynamic characters. His novelette Eight Miles was runner-up in the 2011 Hugo Awards and his next novelette Ninety Thousand Horses won the Analog Readers’ Award in 2013.

Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front cover

There is no lower rank than cabin boy on the warship Invincible. But Dantar knows he is important, because anyone who threatens his life gets turned into a pile of ashes. His older sister Velza is a shapecasting warrior, in a world where only men fight. Until now. Together they must solve the mystery of broken magic and escape the dragon.

Now, over to Sean.

Dangerous Research

Just after World War Two the Soviets were developing an atomic bomb. Their spies stole a sample of enriched uranium from the Americans and analysed it. It was not as pure as the Soviets’ uranium, and a minister boasted about this to an abducted German scientist. He replied that the Americans had only refined their uranium enough to get an explosion. The more pure Soviet uranium would give exactly the same explosion. They had gone to a lot of extra trouble and expense for nothing.

Sound familiar? Have you ever begun some research that should have taken ten minutes then spent the entire day reading something interesting? When you are doing research you need to know when to stop.

There are three types of research. The first is just writing from your background. The second is learning all about a subject by reading lots and lots. The third is just checking details. Why is all this important? When Paul Collins asked me to collaborate on the series The Warlock’s Child, I had four months to add seventy thousand words to the existing file. This meant no time for spurious research.

Much of our series is set aboard ships. I have helped out on yachts, and an ancestor of mine served on the Bounty, so I knew a bit about life on sailing ships. This meant I could write nearly all the shipboard material without any extra research. Depend as much as you can on this sort of research. It’s already done.

I did quite a lot of the second type of research, because I needed to know how ships fought before they had cannons. This is getting the background right, and you can do it with textbooks. You need to do this before you start writing. Our series was a fantasy involving medieval warfare at sea, which I did not know much about. Why use textbooks, when writing fantasy? I once assessed an unpublished novel with a supposedly medieval setting that also had steam trains and machine guns, and where people said things like “Hey you guys, let’s get outa here!” in moments of stress. Even fantasy needs a convincing backdrop.

The third type of research is the most dangerous, and takes discipline. How long does a sailing ship take to travel a hundred miles? How far can an arrow fly? You can check facts like there on the internet, but you will be tempted to keep reading. Resist that temptation. Why learn enough to write a PhD on archery, when all you wanted to know in the first place was how far to stand from a castle wall to be out of bowshot?

If your name is Suzanna Clarke and you are taking ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, no problem, take all the time you like to do your research. I have to be careful how much research I let myself do, because my schedules are measured in months.

The Warlock’s Child series (readers 10+)

Coming Soon: 

Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front cover      Book 3 - The Iron Claw - front cover

Book 4 - Trial by Dragons - front cover      Book 5 - VOYAGE TO MORTICAS - front cover

Book 6 - THE GUARDIANS - front cover

If you’d like to check out some of Sean’s other works, you can visit his website here and co-author Paul Collins here.

The Burning Sea is published by Ford Street Publishing: ISBN 9781925000924

 

Authenticity vs Action

Certain indisputable beliefs were planted in the minds of all television-watching children of the fifties and sixties raised on a diet of cowboy and wild west movies. And of course John Wayne.

john-wayne imageSettlers rode horses, carried guns, could shoot an indian off a hillside half-a-mile away and pick off their dinner prey with a single shot.

And that’s what I believed about hunting and shooting in colonial days. But it seems our forebears in Van Diemen’s Land – circa 1830 – were not blessed with the sharp shooters of the American wild west. They could neither afford nor had access to rifles or shotguns, their single option being to purchase the cast-off Brown Bess muskets of the British military. Even the military themselves could not afford to upgrade to the easier loading, more accurate rifled guns.

Muskets proved useless though to hunt wary kangaroos, wallabies and emus. The timid creatures, unused to white man and his weapons, were quite safe from the inaccurate Brown Bess, even if they had been curious enough to stick around and see what the noisy, long, hit and miss sticks were about.

Muskets work best at a range of no more than twenty yards (18.28 metres). Beyond that the hunter would be lucky to hit his target. Too close and there wouldn’t be much left to salvage for the cooking pot.

Settlers, convicts and bushrangers used snares to catch rabbits, which were populous already in Van Diemen’s Land by the 1820s. To go after larger game, they used dogs aka imported hunting hounds. Even the first settlers on the island, the aborigines, quickly converted their own hunting strategies to include the skill and speed of dogs.

tasmanianaboriginesNative herbivores, having lived a previously dogless existence, bar the thylacine who it’s believed went in for a more ambush than pursuit attack, were no match for the speed and power of the dogs. The open grasslands of Van Diemen’s Land provided a perfect environment for the chase and few places to hide.

An interview with Dr Leo Laden (antique gun authority and owner of the Colonial Arms Museum in Perth) provided me with a detailed explanation on loading, firing and the range of the Brown Bess for my novel. Thanks to him, I’m pretty confident I could load a Brown Bess. Hitting a target, I’m not so sure about. But it seems even well trained soldiers were more lucky than reliable at hitting their targets in the Brown Bess era. Dr Laden explained how, to his disappointment, modern day movie reenactments of colonial life and war more often pursue effect rather than authenticity. I’m confident though, with his guidance, that I’ve got my story portrayal right at least.

Don’t you love writing in the days of the internet? Articles, experts, videos only a Google search away. Who have you interviewed lately? I’d love to know what you are researching?

If you’d like to see the Brown Bess in action, click on the youtube video link below.

Paul Collins – Writing Across Genres

Today I’m excited to welcome award-winning author/publisher Paul Collins to share his experience writing across genres and celebrate the launch of not just one, but two new books.

Paul CollinsEMiPaul is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles, which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

Congratulations, Paul, on the recent release of both The Only Game in the Galaxy (book three in the The Maximus Black Files) and your first adult novel The Beckoning.

You have been published in an incredibly diverse range of genres from picture story book/chapter book/YA fantasy and science fiction through to adult thriller. A very impressive range. I’m curious to know how you cross genres so successfully both from the writing and promotional aspects.

It’s really a matter of encompassing cross-subsidisation. Writers are notoriously the worst paid workers around. Who else would work for a year and risk not being paid? Writers do this all the time. So early on I realised that if I were to make writing a full time career, I needed to work several jobs, and jobs that allowed me to write. Hence, I opened bookshops. These didn’t pay much, so I worked as a bouncer in hotels at nights. During the day, I’d write stories in my various shops. This worked for around twenty-five years until I started making more from my writing than both my security work and bookshops. I knew I had to edit anthologies, write chapter books and non-fiction titles for education publishers, and as an indulgence, ‘real’ books. I say ‘real’ meaning thicker, substantial books. But even though I’ve been published by most of the major publishers, I have to admit that these ‘real’ books aren’t in any way lucrative. I don’t want to sound like it’s a monetary thing, but if you’re serious about being a career author, you do need to look at what you make from it. I’ve never received writing grants.

ONLY GAME FRONT Newsletter

With two concurrent newly published titles, The Only Game in the Galaxy and The Beckoning, how are you splitting/sharing your promotional time and energy on such different projects and readerships?

This was tough in one sense as I’m primarily known as a writer for younger readers. But luckily for me most of my contacts were curious as to how I came to write an adult horror novel. Most wondered where I found the time. But this in itself proved a marketable story. I wrote it around 30 years ago – the counter of several bookshops as I mentioned. I typed it onto a computer in the 90s, saved it via various storage devices such as 3.5 floppies, CDs, zip drives, USB sticks. Suddenly I noticed on Buzz Words that Damnation Books was after horror books so figured what the heck, I’d submit it. So all the blogs I wrote and interviews I gave, I got to mention The Beckoning, although primarily people were interested in The Only Game in the Galaxy. So they both got equal billing. And it seems to have worked. Both titles made the Top 100 on various Amazon pages. The Beckoning actually made #7 on the psychic thriller page, just six spots behind Stephen King’s latest novel. It’s been in the Top 100 ever since it was published. The Only Game in the Galaxy is also in the Top 100 on the spies’ page.

The Beckoning is your first published adult novel. What (if any) differences or contrasts can you make between writing for young adult readers and writing for adult readers?

Not much, really. Simply because most kids books have, surprise, surprise, kids in them. The Beckoning also features a kid. But whereas a kid’s book would be told from the kid’s POV, an adults book focuses on an adult’s POV. So The Beckoning is told from Briony’s father’s POV.

The Beckoning _150dpi_eBook

The Beckoning was thirty years from first writing to publication. How much changed since that original version and in what ways did you need to alter it to suit a changed world and readership?

 Believe it or not, very little. A few things have changed, such as the cost of living, mobile phones and such, but generally the novel stood the test of time. I was tempted to ‘set’ the time period as mid eighties, but there was no need to. I did change some text to suit the US market, but that too was minimal. The Beckoning is a real time capsule to what I was writing back then. I was recently reminded that I also have another horror novel sitting in a box somewhere. Unfortunately this one was never converted to a computer, so I’d need to find time to type it again. And who knows, perhaps it’s best left in the box. I have to say I’m staggered by the reviews The Beckoning is getting. Over the thirty years it’s been rejected by many publishers. The closest it came to being published was reaching the long list of Lothian’s short-lived adult horror series.

Paul, you have said that there is nothing to like about Maximus Black as a character, breaking a taboo in publishing that says authors need to make their protagonist likeable if they expect readers to follow his/her journey. Yet readers have embraced Maximus. What do you think it is about him and his stories that appeals to readers amd keeps them reading?

Tough question! I can’t answer directly – you’d be better off asking readers that question. I thought perhaps readers would relate to Max’s nemesis, the irrepressible Anneke Longshadow. But so many reviewers have basically been behind Maximus Black. Maybe I’ve somehow reached down into his soul and exposed him in some inexplicable way that readers have picked up on? Dunno. I do know that I asked a good friend of mine to have a read of the first title, Mole Hunt, and he thoroughly detested Maximus. The book depressed him. And yet readers across the board disagree with this first reader – as you can imagine, I’m much relieved!

Will the reader see another side of Maximus Black in The Only Game in the Galaxy being the final book in the series?

Certainly. He does become more ‘human’ throughout the trilogy. I can sort of see how readers would ‘finally’ relate to him. But not from the beginning, which they did.

We hear a lot these days about “author branding”and how writers need to focus on one genre to build a “brand” for themselves, their books and their publisher. As the wearer of dual hats, as both author and as Publisher at Ford Street Publishing, how important to you think author “branding” is?

It obviously works for some people. But like I mentioned, I’ve had to write across the board – everything from picture books through to books for adults. I don’t see how I could brand myself with this work ethic. It simply wouldn’t work. Publishers expect you to remain loyal to them so as not to dilute their investment in you. But let’s be realistic: writing one book a year is not going to feed you, much less pay the bills. Only a small percentage of authors can make a living in Australia writing one book a year and sticking with a single publisher.

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to write across genres and readership ages?

Reading books across genres and readerships helps. See what the main publishers are publishing. Don’t be afraid to take risks: send your manuscripts out to as many publishers as it takes to get them published. And remember, we all get rejections. Be persistent. Take on board editorial tips for improvement if they’re offered. Subscribe to magazines such as PIO and Buzz Words. You only need to discover one market to which you sell a story or a novel, and you’ve more than made back your investment.

You have published a phenomenol 150+ books, Paul. Is there any advice that you wish you’d been given as a young, emerging writer or something in particular that you’ve learned that you’d like to share with the readers of this post?

Apart from the above, I wish I’d participated in some writing courses. I pretty much went it alone and made mistakes, but never had anyone to show me where I was going wrong. I think a mentor would’ve proven invaluable; would’ve certainly been a short-cut to getting novels published. Despite writing my first novels in the early eighties, it wasn’t until the mid nineties that I sold The Wizard’s Torment to HarperCollins. Not until then did I realise that I was on the right track.

Thank you for visiting From Hook to Book, Paul, and sharing your insights and experiences. Congratulations again on publication of both The Only Game in the Galaxy and The Beckoning. 

Paul’s latest titles are available at Amazon:

The Beckoning: Kindle and print: http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy

The Only Game in the Galaxy at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/mshxpsx

Print: http://tinyurl.com/lfubra6

The Only Game in the Galaxy

ONLY GAME FRONT NewsletterIn a galaxy of cutthroat companies, shadowy clans and 
a million agendas, spy agency RIM barely wields enough control to keep order. Maximus Black is RIM’s star cadet. But he has a problem. One of RIM’s best agents, Anneke Longshadow, knows there’s a mole in the organisation.

And Maximus has a lot to hide.

Ford Street Publishing   ISBN: 9781925000061

The Beckoning

The Beckoning _150dpi_eBookWhen evil intent is just the beginning…
Matt Brannigan is a lawyer living on the edge. His daughter, Briony is psychic and trouble shadows his family wherever they go.
Cult guru Brother Desmond knows that the power within Briony is the remaining key he needs to enter the next dimension. Once he controls this, he will have access to all that is presently denied him.
When Briony is indoctrinated into the Zarathustrans, Matt and psychic Clarissa Pike enter the cult’s headquarters under the cover of night to rescue her.
So begins Armageddon…

Damnation Books LLC   ASIN: B00F5I6ZWE

Paul Collins website

Ford Street PublishingFordStemail-sig

The Next Big Thing

I have been tagged, in the writers’ blog chain The Next Big Thingby the lovely and talented Corinne Fenton. The idea is that one one writer tags five more writers to talk about their Next Big Thing (project) and then those writers pass the baton on so that we can read about what lots of writers are writing about. So here we go with my Next Big Thing.

R1)  What is the working title of your next book?

The Swing Tree

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Scotland research Bothwellhaugh miners row IMG_1029The Swing Tree began as a passion project after a visit to the State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi, exploring my family history back in 2008. My Irish great-grandparents journey to Australia from a tiny pit village in Scotland cried out as a backdrop in need of a story and so began a four-year love affair that has taken me to my ancestors’ birthplace, down a Lanarkshire coal mine and onto the battlefields of France.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Jayd JohnsonJames McAvoyHmm, a tough question, especially since my main character, Maire, is Scottish and I’m not so familiar with Scottish actors. During the writing of The Swing Tree,  I kept a photograph of the gorgeous Olive Thomas, star of the twenties silent movies, attached to my monitor as inspiration for Maire’s character.  I think today, young Scottish actress Jayd Johnson would make a fabulous Maire. I can see James McAvoy playing the role of Liam. He’s cute and cheeky, but he would also bring the hard edge to Liam’s character when necessary.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young Scots immigrant follows the lad she loves to the far side of the world only to find him much changed and herself no part of his plans.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Fingers crossed – an agency.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Eighteen-months for the first draft. The completed manuscript is now 120,000-words, but I would have written over 170,000-words during three years of writing, researching, rewriting and multiple drafts.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

foals-breadYear of WondersI think my story compares with the struggles of the characters in Gillian Mears Foal’s Bread and Geraldine Brooks Year of Wonders, showing ordinary people trying to carry on living ordinary lives in the face of extraordinary circumstances, adversity and changing times. Though my book is more a crossover to mainstream fiction than literary.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Beyond the visit to Wonthaggi (discussed in question two) and my love of history and the Great War era, my great-grandparents’ journey to Australia inspired me. That challenge and their courage in uprooting their family and lives, for a new start in a country so far away, ignited a passion in me for the immigrant journey, particularly one that occurred during a time of enormous change, especially for women. Beyond the parallel migration journey, the story of The Swing Tree is entirely fictional.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I believe readers will be interested in the female viewpoint shown of life on the home-front during World War One as opposed to the more frequently portrayed male viewpoint and life in the trenches. Life in Australia during WW1 was quite different for women compared to wartime life for women in United Kingdom, where women were encouraged to take over the jobs of men, drive ambulances, work in factories. Here, women’s war effort was confined to knitting and sewing for the troops, unless they were involved in the Red Cross. This proved frustrating and ground-breaking times for women here attempting to expand their roles, yet, many women had to take on the role of breadwinner when the men returned “changed” and often unfit to hold down fulltime jobs. Shellshock was yet to be recognised.

The BIG Question in your Novel?

Big ProblemThe first time I was asked: “What is the big question in your novel?” I responded with a blank look.

BIG question??? Hmm! Hadn’t really thought about a BIG question. I was just writing what I hoped was a cracker of a story and following my main character’s journey through a testing and changing time for women during the era of The Great War.

“Wrong. No! You must be writing to answer a question,” insisted my uni research tutor.

Really!???

Turned out, I was actually asking and exploring quite a few questions, but it took me some considerable effort to seek them out and, even more so, to articulate them and find the core question.

Being an historical novel, I thought, at first, that my questions would be very different to those that might be posed in a contemporary story. I considered them to be all about a woman’s right to happiness and did they have any rights to it, over duty, in the era of 1912 – 1920? I thought the question not relevant to young women in western society today, who often have so many choices.

Eventually I worked the major question in my novel through to:

At what point do we question the rightness and rationale of what we’ve been taught? (Or should we?)

Of course, this turned out to be a timeless question, relevant to as many women/people in the world today as much as a century ago. A right of passage and a question that – in some form – has  been explored and debated in books the world over – through every genre.

Bunyips Don'tI remember having a debate with my Writing for Children tutor, several years ago, when I wrote a glowing review on the picture book Bunyips Don’t by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Kim Gamble. My tutor maintained how could the book end with a celebration when Young Bunyip had moved to the sunny side of the swamp with new friends leaving old Bunyip alone? To her, Young Bunyip was bucking his heritage and a selfish creature for deserting Old Bunyip. I argued that Young Bunyip tried to encourage miserable Old Bunyip, living in the dank and dark, that he could dance and play (be happy) on the sunny side of the swamp and to come with him. Old Bunyip chose not to just because Bunyips Don’t dance and play and live on the sunny side. He chose to live the same old unhappy life rather than make a choice to change. In the end, my tutor was more convinced but still struggled with Young Bunyip “abandoning” his heritage and his kind’s way of life.

Doesn’t enjoyment and love for a book often come down to reader perspective?

If I hadn’t been going to uni, would I have ultimately learned as much just in the writing of my novel and formulated the same BIG question? Perhaps!

But the scope of my Master’s degree insisted I explore and articulate the social context and big question of my novel leading me to discover and thrill to what I discovered were the many layers to my story. Many intentional but some that I found had emerged organically too.

Chris pre-grad (Large)So last week, I walked the ramp to the RMIT graduation stage with a huge grin on my face and grasped my degree, very pleased and proud to be a Master of Creative Media (Creative Writing) with Distinction.

Now – onward to get my novel published. And discover the BIG question in my new manuscript/s.

Often I hear writers asked, did your idea spring from plot, character or setting? Not, what question are you asking. So I’m asking you: Do you write with a BIG question in mind?

Chris post graduation (Large)

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