Archive for category My Memories of a Future Life

Shaking off the ghost – guest post at Jessica Bell’s

When I was ghostwriting, I longed to have a novel published with my own name on. Today I’m talking about my journey to make that happen at The Alliterative Allomorph, bloggish home of author, singer, poet and songwriter Jessica Bell.

Her name might be familiar to you as a recent guest on The Undercover Soundtrack, where she made a big impression by revealing she wrote her own unique soundtrack for her debut novel String Bridge. Yes, that Jessica Bell, I knew you’d remember her… Come over and see where this very cool lady hangs out.

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Celebrating indie publishing – guest post at Terri Giuliano Long’s

What do you celebrate about indie publishing? Freedom? Control? Why might someone who is represented by literary agents publish their own work?

All this week, bestselling indie author Terri Giuliano Long is holding a ‘celebrate indies’ event and I’m honoured she invited me as one of the guest posters. (I’m going to be dragging her here for an Undercover Soundtrack soon, about her award-winning novel In Leah’s Wake.) And her timing couldn’t be better because this week the UK’s Guardian newspaper finally published a post admitting that there’s a lot of good to be found in self-published books. (If you think so too, go and tell them!)

In the meantime, here’s my rallying cry at Terri’s – and you can also find out why I consider this much-editioned novel is a beacon for the indie publishing movement.

Do you think indie authors are gaining credibility? Share in the comments!

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It’s World Book Night – and The Red Season is free

Today and tomorrow – 23rd and 24th April – depending on your time zone, hundreds of thousands of bookworms are celebrating their love of reading with gifts in World Book Night (which you can find out more about here). At the Authors Electric blog we’re marking the occasion with a giveaway event of our own. One of the free titles is Episode 1 of My Memories of a Future Life – The Red Season, which you can find here (UK or US) – and while you’re at it you’ll also find nearly a dozen other fine books at the Authors Electric blog.

Edits forbid a proper writing post right now, as you probably guessed from all the moaning about sore arms. Anyway, I reckon with all those free goodies you’ll be knee deep in reading for a few days (and some titles are free for a few days afterwards so if you’re getting here late it’s still worth checking them out). There will be an Undercover Soundtrack as usual on Wednesday and I hope I’ll be back with a writing nugget next weekend. In fact, if you want to suggest a topic, now’s your chance. In the meantime, happy World Book Night.

Thanks for the pic, Sebastian Antony

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How to write great guest posts about your book – keep your stories about your stories

‘Do you know how I came up with the new ending for my book?’ said my client. ‘I dreamed it.’ She went on to describe a wonky version of what finally went into the draft I was reading.

‘Keep this anecdote,’ I said. ‘Write it down.’

‘Pah it’s just a dream,’ she said. ‘I was also inspired by this strange thing that happened to a friend…’

‘Write that down too,’ I said.

She thought I was mad, and no doubt you do too. But there will come a time when you will be scratching for things to say about your book and you need something beyond a story summary or a sketch of your main characters.

Awkward moments

I first realised this years ago at a friend’s book launch. I’d just finished My Memories of a Future Life and I got chatting to a publisher. I gave my prepared spiel and he nodded eagerly, wanting more. I’d run out of pitch, so I bumbled on about my favourite bits, aware that I was getting obscure, but I was so mired in the book I couldn’t see it as an outsider. What I needed was a crisp anecdote or two to keep him relating to it – perhaps about its influences or what inspired it. (He still asked to see it, though, so no harm done.)

Publicity is a long game of guest posts, interviews and maybe personal appearances. (At the moment, Dave is gearing up for the launch of his Frankenstein book app, and is grappling with interview questions. ‘What on earth do I tell all these people?’ he frequently says to me. ‘I thought it was enough to just write the story.’)

Blah blah blah

There’s only so much you can say about the novel without giving spoilers. And you’re going to be asked the same questions time and again about the writing of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to give the same answers. In fact, you shouldn’t. In each case you might reach a new audience, but the chances are, readers will see you several times before they decide to check you out. The more different – but congruent – stories you can tell about your book, the richer it will seem and the more ways you have to reel readers in. And the less you’ll bore everyone, including yourself.

And people who like stories also like stories about stories. I recently added an ‘inspired by’ anecdote to my Amazon listing for My Memories of a Future Life and sales have trebled. This experimental sample of just one seems to prove somethingorother.

What makes a good story about your story?

The very best are specific but don’t give too much away. It could be

  • novels that influenced it
  • favourite fictional characters that spurred you to write it
  • real-life experiences that fed into it – anything that gives you an insider view of the subject or events
  • real-life people who inspired it or helped with research – although be careful of libel
  • issues the novel raises

Or it could be something left field, like my series The Undercover Soundtrack on the red blog, where writers tell a tale about their book in the context of music that inspired them while writing.

But thinking of all this stuff – unless someone gives you a specific exercise like my Undercover Soundtracks – is time consuming. And, depending on how complex your novel is, you may not be able to name all its influences at the drop of a hat. I’m still becoming aware of forgotten seeds for both of mine. They emerge by chance in conversations, revisited films and novels I dimly remember. Now I realise I might have a use for these insights, every time I stumble on another, I write it down.

Keep your stories about your stories. You’ll be surprised how easily they’ll slip your mind, but they’re as useful to you as the ideas in the actual novel itself. And you’ll never have enough.

Thanks for the pic Ben Chau

Do you have a tale about your novel? If you can tell it briefly, the floor is yours…

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‘Highly original, delivered with aplomb’ – pick of the month at Multi-Story

My Memories of a Future Life is pick of the month at the Multi-Story blog – and here’s the bragging screen grab to prove it. They described it as ‘haunting and compelling… a novel that stays with you long after  reading’ – which was rather nice. You’ll also find, if you go there, a piece from my archives on the difference between writing fiction and writing, well, just about anything else. Reports, presentations, journalism, homework assignment may flex your lexicals, but they set you totally wrong for fiction. Find out how to shake off their disruptive influence.

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‘Music for telling the darkest secrets’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Kelly Simmons

When Kelly Simmons was finding her way with her first novel, she put on the soundtrack for The Sopranos TV series and a new creative habit was born. Now, two thrillers finished, she still can’t abide music while writing her initial draft. But come the revisions, she puts on gritty, twisty songs that help her infuse her novels with humanity as well as violence. Join me on on the red blog for her Undercover Soundtrack

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‘The last days of Nazi Germany did not play out to Wagner, but sentimental hits about love and hope’ – Leslie Wilson, The Undercover Soundtrack

My guest this week drew on the music of 1930s Germany to flesh out her story of a girl who hides her Jewish boyfriend from the authorities. For some of the scenes, she even wrote lyrics in the style of the time. The novel, Saving Rafael, has been nominated for no fewer than four awards and Leslie Wilson is talking about its Undercover Soundtrack on the red blog today

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A typewriter with no letter ‘t’ – interview at Jason’s Spina Bifida Journey

Jason Bourne, in the non-fictional world, blogs about everything from cancer, sport, spina bifida, spirituality, music, the USA, love, leukaemia, food and friends. He also likes to collect authors from time to time and I’m honoured that he wanted me to guest on his Author Roundtable feature this week. We delve into my first urges to write, including the part played by a typewriter with a disadvantage that didn’t stop it having a full and productive life… The full interview at Jason’s blog

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‘This wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, James Scott Bell

My guest this week on The Undercover Soundtrack has perhaps the longest playlist yet. He keeps a collection of mood tunes to feed his muse, categorised as ‘suspense, heart and inspiration’. He’s bestselling suspense author and writing coach James Scott Bell, and he’s sharing his writing playlists, in a very fine hat, on the red blog

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Some novels should be written slowly

How long does it take to write a novel?

Here’s a typical post I’ve been seeing a lot lately. ‘A few hundred words a day add up to several thousand a month – which will let you bank a good two or three novels a year.’

We’re not counting the first book, of course. Then, you were running not just before you could walk but before you even learned to tie your shoes. Your novels after that will obviously be faster, but how fast? Two or three novels a year? Whole novels, finished, filleted to perfection?

If a goal like that turns you hysterically italic, then relax. It makes my serifs curl too. Not all novels can – or should – be written fast.

I’ve done fast writing. One year when I was ghosting, I knocked out four entire novels. (There they are on the scales, plus the one I started next.) I had the characters, it was a well trodden genre.

My own novels take me aeons by comparison.

I had the idea for My Memories of a Future Life in the 1990s when I was hopelessly unable to do it justice. A decade later I wrote it properly, which took at least a year of mining and quarrying. It wooed an agent, I did more edits and I hoped for another round before it was published. In the end I became my own publisher – diagnosed the last tweaks it needed and nuked 50,000 words. A lot of that time, of course, was learning curve. But My Memories of a Future Life could not have been written in four months.

The novel I’m revising again, Life Form 3, took more than a year. If you’ve been knocking around this blog for a while you might remember my anguished posts when it tested my faith quite sorely. I’ve now got great notes from a publisher who identified some sticky spots that I agree on. And finding the solutions has taken me three months.

Three months. In the alternate universe where I write like the clappers, that’s the time taken to write – and finish – three-quarters of a novel.

Although we do aim to finish our books, not fiddle forever, I worry that we are too obsessed by speed. It’s as if all writers are being encouraged to aim just for quantity – ‘I’ll have a pound of novels, please’. My writing pace isn’t unusual; I recently finished reading The Lessons by Naomi Alderman and was heartened to see a four-year gap between novel 1 and novel 2. She marinates even longer than I do.

You do what’s right for your material, your muse and your market. A thriller designed as an airport read is probably not going to get much better if you spend a year honing every paragraph. Series are faster too – you know your characters and where you’re going, so half the work is done for you already. A more literary, thoughtful work takes discovery. I sometimes worry that all I’ve got is muddle, and no model to tell me how to put it together. But with time, it comes.

If you’re well tuned to your audience and your genre, you can turn a novel out efficiently – but that doesn’t always mean fast.

Are you a fast writer or a slow writer? Do you feel pressured to write too fast?

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