Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Captain Bartholomew Quasar

One of the joys of social media (arguably the joy) is the ability to drop in on other people's lives and share their magic moments. I recently scrolled through my list and there was Milo James Fowler, smiling away with a book in his hand. How could I resist finding out more about his story, and the story behind his story?

Take it away, Milo James...

1 What was your journey to publication?

Back in 2009, I'd written a couple novels and queried them with agents, but there were no takers. I figured it might be a good idea to accumulate a few publication credits and maybe qualify for SFWA membership before I sent out any more queries. Then back in 2011, I started the Write1Sub1 challenge to write and submit 52 short stories in 52 weeks. A year later, after a few of my Captain Bartholomew Quasar stories had been published, I was approached by Every Day Publishing regarding the possibility of a serialized Captain Quasar novel.

Fast-forward to 2015: more than 100 of my short stories have been published, appearing in AE Science Fiction, Cosmos, Nature, Shimmer, and the Wastelands 2 anthology. It's been an arduous journey at times with many stories surviving more than a dozen rejections prior to publication, but it's been well worth the effort. Seeing my first novel—Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum—greet the masses this month has been incredibly rewarding.

2 What appeals to you about sci-fi as a genre?

I like being taken to worlds I've never been, but I also enjoy cautionary tales about where our world may be headed.

3 Do you feel sci-fi is marginalised?

Not in my corner of the universe; it's all I read and mostly all I watch. But I usually realize I'm the exception whenever I find myself in conversations with friends and coworkers. Apparently, no one reads anymore unless it's a book on the airport bestseller rack, and all they watch is reality TV.

4 Which authors have inspired you?

Ray Bradbury, first and foremost. His poetic prose is unmatched, and he inspired my Write1Sub1 challenge. I also enjoy Alastair Reynolds' body of work, as well as China Mieville's and Margaret Atwood's. I'm slowly making my way through everything they've written.

5 What is your writing process?

I used to be more of a pantser, making everything up as I went along and often writing myself into dark, frustrating corners. But now in my old age (pushing 40), I've become more of a plotter. I'll sketch out an outline of major plot points ahead of time so I know where the story's going; then it's just a matter of connecting the dots during the drafting phase. That first draft is my sloppy copy; I vomit out the words and clean them up later. After half a dozen revisions, I present my work to my wife/partner-in-crime who lets me know how I can tighten it up. After another round of edits, it's off on the submission circuit where it will remain until it's accepted for publication. Or until the world ends. Whichever happens first.

6 Where can we find out more about your work?

7 What's next on your writing to-do list?

Snag an agent. Sell a few thousand copies of my novel. Sign a movie deal. Nothing major. Oh, and keep writing, of course. I'm enjoying myself too much to do anything else.

Find out more about Milo's new novel: Captain Bartholomew Quasar

Friday, 4 September 2015

Spotlight on Emma Timpany

Emma, your debut short fiction collection, In The Lost of Syros, was recently published by Cultured Llama. How did you go about putting the collection together?

In all, the writing of the stories (sixteen in all) took seven or eight years. My first short story was published in 2010; a year later, The Glasshouse Mountains won the Society of Women Writers and Journalists Short Story Award and the judge, Vanessa Gebbie, suggested I work towards a first collection. 

I looked at the finished stories I had (around six completed and another four or so in progress) to see if they shared any common themes and found that the characters were all, in some sense, lost and trying to find their way; another link was the work and life on the New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield which ran in and out of the collection like a dark thread. Towards the end of 2012 I started submitting and was accepted by Cultured Llama fifteen months later. The Lost of Syros was published eighteen months after that.

Do you keep a collection of ideas, or do you approach each short story with a blank page and see what develops organically?

My story ideas arise organically, most often from a memory, an event, a feeling, something odd and fleeting; if I get a glimpse or scent a story I try and note it down before it disappears.  Sometimes themed calls for submissions will prompt an idea, for example the ‘Time’ theme for Arachne Press’s Solstice Shorts Competition or Cinnamon Press’s current competition ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves.’

Congratulations on Flowers making the short list for the 2015 Bristol Short Story Prize. How did you choose that particular piece?

I come from a family of florists and flower-growers and have been (sometimes reluctantly) a florist and flower-grower myself. I wanted to write about the role flowers have played in my life; the fact that Flowers has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story prize has encouraged me to explore this idea further.

What is it that draws you to the short story form over longer works of fiction?

The first short stories I encountered as a schoolgirl, by New Zealand writers Katherine Mansfield, Patricia Grace and Owen Marshall, made me fall in love with the form. I’ve never thought of short stories as less powerful or important than the novel or novella. I’m also intrigued by the idea that short stories are, by their nature, a subversive, experimental, marginal form. I like that the fact that I can complete a story in months rather than years, as is the case when I’m writing a novel.

Which short fiction authors inspire you and why?

There are so many short fiction writers I admire: Claire Keegan, David Constantine, Paula Morris, Jane Gardam, Kirsty Gunn, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, Patricia Grace, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever, Lucy Wood, Alice Munro, Jacob Ross, Jennifer Egan, Julie Orringer, Mavis Gallant, Deborah Eisenberg, Patrick Holland, Raymond Carver, Tim Winton – and that’s just for starters. They all inspire me because they write, or have written, great short stories.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on the longer piece of flower-themed fiction (as mentioned above) and slowly putting together a second collection of short stories. In the coming months I’ll also be editing my novel, Travelling in the Dark.

What are the great challenges in creating short fiction?

The greatest challenges are creating complex characters and their worlds in a few thousand words. For me, the best short stories are, to quote Alison MacLeod, ‘quiet, radical, human and delicious.’

What fascinates me about writing is how it gathers every aspect of living into itself. There’s something mysterious and hard to define about the creation of a story that I find captivating; the gift it offers is a rare kind of freedom.

Do you have a blog or use social media?

Saturday, 25 July 2015

You, Me and Other People - Fionnuala Kearney

The Strictly Writing family is spread far and wide. Like all families we trade opinions, offer support and celebrate one another's successes. We don't send socks at Christmas though.

Our very own Fionnuala Kearney has much to celebrate (which I'll leave her to tell you about in her own words below), and it's a genuine pleasure to bring her to the virtual and comfy interview chair. Join me please for a writing story with a happy ending. 

Hello again, Fionnuala. Do you have a set routine for writing, or a favourite time and place?

Nowadays, writing is my job and I try really hard to stick to a routine. I work every day, Monday to Friday and very often at least some hours over the weekend as well – so it’s pretty full on. On the week days, I write from about nine in the morning through to lunchtime and then keep the immediate hours afterwards for emails/Facebook/Twitter. That sounds like complete procrastination but it’s not! They are now vital tools to keep in touch with other writers and readers. That’s the time I write other non-novel things like blogposts, etc., or update my website. Then, later in the afternoon, I pick up the novel work from the morning which is either writing/editing/revising, depending where I am in the process.

I work from my study at home, which is the smallest bedroom upstairs. I work surrounded with pictures and notebooks and I face the front garden so have a view to stare out at when I’m in ‘thinking’ mode. Next to my desk is the most enormous whiteboard – where I make notes and draw lots of arrows and stuff. (It’s plotting. Really.)

Tell us about your book deal moment – where were you and how did you react?

I was at home, waiting and waiting and willing the phone to ring – had been for days! MY agent called and I knew from her voice she had good news. It was, without doubt, one of the best moments I’ve ever had. After the phone-call, I did a little jig; 80’s ska-style around the kitchen.

‘You, Me and Other People’ has a dual narrative with the story of a marriage in freefall being told from both the husband and wife’s POV. How was it writing from a middle aged man’s POV and how did you find his voice?

When I’m writing, I start with characters first and I have an idea of what particular conflict/dilemma/trouble they have in their life. Beth, the wife, came to me fully formed and more or less insisted I hear her husband out! Adam came relatively easily – I constantly asked myself the ‘what if’ with both of them.

I really wanted to write both points of view because, real life often shows that nothing is ever completely one sided and nothing is ever as simple as the word ‘betrayal’ - it is our flaws as well as our strengths that make us human. Adam is certainly flawed but I found it remarkably easy to get into his head.

As a reader, two of my favourite books are ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls and ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. Two completely different books but both with tortured male protagonists! It was probably inevitable that I would try to write a male voice.

How are you finding life as a ‘published author’ under contract in comparison to life before? Do you approach your writing differently now?

Well, it’s certainly busier now! I think I’m having to approach things a little differently as my writing evolves. I’m a natural ‘pantser’ but I no longer have the time to be, so do find myself having to plot and plan the story out more in advance of starting. I structure my working life differently because I have to, in order to get everything done – I am aware of deadlines! And I’m very aware of a readership and delivering to them.

Also, it’s not such a solitary existence, in that, I am working into an editor who is also involved in the process with each book. This does mean that I have someone to keep me on track and to help make the novel the very best it can be.

You have been signed by Harper Collins on a three book deal (huge congratulations by the way!) - can you say anything about your plans for the next two books?

I’m currently editing my second novel The Day I Lost You and it is, again, a story told from a male and female perspective. Where in You, Me And Other People, the relationship examined was husband and wife – this relationship is one of friends. It’s obvious at the beginning of the book that one of them has suffered an enormous loss and you’ll have to wait to hear more! I will start writing book three in September this year and though I have some ideas, I’m not quite sure which one I’ll run with yet. Current favourite is one where I want to tackle three perspectives of siblings, though that may change next week!

Did you get feedback on what was it about ‘You, Me and Other People’ that sealed the deal?

I think years and years (some of which were played out on here on ‘Strictly Writing’) of practising and honing my writing skills; of writing three other novels before You, Me and Other People actually stood me in good stead. Practice, while not making perfect, has certainly helped… I’ve heard it time and time again that it is all about the writing.

My editor did tell me that my ‘emotional delivery’ works and I think having the male voice in this particular story helped too.

Is there anything you’d change looking back on your journey?

I’m tempted to say it would have been nice to reach this place quicker, but honestly? I don’t think it would have been possible. My writing experience from the time I sat down first to ‘write a book’ right through until now has been exactly what it should have been – a slow and steady burn, a constant learning process.

I’m so glad that during the ‘rejection years’ that, somehow, I toughened my skin and kept going. It would have been so easy to give up. In fact, there were many times that I did, only to return to it weeks later saying, ‘I’ll just try one more time.’ If nothing else, I am a lesson in perseverance…

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to write?

Keep going! Never give up! And even if you only write the tiniest of atoms of a story, persevere. Another day, you will write more.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Do writers even have spare time?!

Spare time?! Ha! Seriously, I love to read. It was my love of reading that first made me want to write so I still love to lose myself in a good book. I’m a foodie – love good food and a glass of vino with family and friends. 

Available in ebook, paperback and audio book. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

Carl Ashmore's Time Hunters series

As regular visitors to our Strictly blog will know, I'm currently working on a British thriller series. We featured author Carl Ashmore on this blog a while ago and when I heard that he'd finished writing the last of his Time Hunter books I invited him back for a chat. Here, he offer some insights into his experience.

1. How do you feel after completing The Time Hunters series?
It’s a bitter sweet feeling, that’s for sure. I started the series in 2005 and completed it almost ten years to the day I started. But it was always planned as a five book series, and I story-lined every book in detail before I began. It’s such a complex series with a great deal of backstory scattered across the 5 books, that it’s only when you read the last book everything really comes together.

There’s always the possibility I’ll write another Time Hunters book one day. I do have two stories in my head that would make really great books, but there’s another series I’d like to start before I even think of returning to the TH world.

2. Were there any adventures or ideas you were unable to fit in the series?
Although I did storyline in detail, I left room for digression. I found this essential to keep the process fresh. I’m one of those authors that dislikes writing, but loves having written, so whatever I can do to keep the process stimulating and enjoyable I’ll do.  

For instance, although I always intended to visit the American Old West in ‘The Time Hunters and the Lost City’, I had no intention of utilising the legend of Jacob Waltz and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  It was only when I saw a documentary about it a year ago I knew it had to be in TH5.

3. Has your writing process changed since you first started on the series?
When I first started I really hadn’t a clue. The first draft of Book 1 was appalling on every level. Of course, I ‘d taken a year off work to write the book in the SW of France, so I’m sure the red wine dulled my ability to notice how bad it was. It was quite soul destroying to reach the end of that draft, recognise its huge faults, and then basically start from scratch again.

4. What's next for you?
I’ve literally just finished a screenplay for the first Time Hunters book, which I’ll use to try and attract the interest of film producers. I know a few people in the film/TV industry and they’ve loved the books and want to help me realise the dream of seeing it on a big or small screen. After that, I’ll start working on my next children’s series ‘Zak Fisher and the Angel Prophecy’.

5. What writing tips did you pick up along the way?
My best tip is related to editing. Personally, I like to read in the bath.  And when I’ve finished each chapter of a work in progress  I email my Kindle what I’ve written and read it as though I would a normal book.  It’s amazing how many typos you pick up reading via the Kindle format. For some reason it helps cure author blindness. Obviously, it’s not a replacement for a good editor, but it saves you the embarrassment of missing so many easily corrected typos.

6      Have you explored audio book versions?
Not really. I know I should. The ironic thing is I’m a media lecturer by day and work in a college with a radio station and recording studios. I could easily put one together with a little help from my friends. Maybe I should get on that.

Actually, that’s a great tip for new/old writers – look to the student body of your local colleges and universities. After all, today’s student is tomorrow’s media professional. Many colleges have excellent resources and there are some very talented students out there who are keen to make a few quid on the side. Some time ago an ex-student of mine, Richard Litherland, asked if he could make a Book Trailer for the first Time Hunters book. Of course I said yes. As a promotional tool it’s something different and works really well. He presented it to me a few days ago and here it is:

7. Where can we get hold of your books?
They're on Amazon. Here's a link to all my books:

Thanks for being invited to do the interview. Keep up the great work on the site.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The spell chequer is all ways wright, sew their!

The spell chequer is all ways write, sew their. Eye like to think eye am a good speller. Of coarse, we knead to bee good spellers, ewe sea. As authors wee set an eggs ample to others. Perhaps there are sum people who want to bee authors but our not that good at spelling. That's were the pea sea comes in handy. Some people don't give a shirt weather they spell write or knot, butt I do! Four me, it's very imp port tent. I learned too spell when I was at school at the age of for. My teach her said I was a grate speller and I even got won hundred per cent won year.

Eye halve won of those spelling chequers which is help full. Ewe can tell, I hope? Regard less of weather I halve a spell chequer or knot, I no I am a grate speller. Many of the grate righters did knot halve spelling chequers. George Oar Well could spell and he didn't halve a spelling chequer because he lived long a go. Charles Dick Ins new how to spell write. If ewe reed Grate Expectations ewe will bee amazed at how good he is. All sew, there's Emily Braun Tea who probably did knot halve a spell chequer, and Dug Glass Cope Land – he know doubt did though, as he is mode urn.

The knew write hers from the naughties like like Hill Lorry Mantle will halve spelling chequers witch will help them to spell. All there novels, and even Hilary's book Wool Fall where all free from mist aches. They will halve spelling chequers on their comp pewters and eye max.

Eye have been running my hole novel threw it and have realised it's perfect all the weigh threw. There are know wig lee green lines, know mist aches at all – soup her! This novel, numb bare too, which eye halve stored on my pea sea is grate. I'm hoping some won some were will want to publish it. 

Butt, the spelling chequer can be danger us two. We may think we spell a whirred write butt it is, in fact wrong. Sew, we must be care full when sending are books two agents. 

I can knot bare those rejections. I'm board with them. Those callus agents think they no it all. They chews only a few books each year two print - and just think off all that paper they waist, righting reject sean let hers.

Eye halve taken grate care with this add vice, sew if ewe sea any mist aches please let me no. All the words our spelt write – that I can ass sure ewe. Knot won whirred is out of plaice – can ewe bee leave that?

Let this be a less in to ewe, to poof read care fully!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Curious Incident Of The Mustard Mayo

Morning all!
I've been away for a while, writing, working, trying to complete a novel in a year.
The blog has suffered - but all credit goes to Derek who has held the fort. And big congrats to Derek and may he enjoy the fruits of his labour!

I've been working on my next novel Acts - it follows a university lecturer and his wife who are battling mental health problems while concealing a shocking, dramatic secret which will change the way their small village sees them.

However, once I'd finished the novel, I had the occasion to pen a letter of complaint. Now I never complain! But had to on this occasion - and all credit to Marks and Spencer who are kindly sending me a gift token to make up for Mustardgate!

Here we are:

Dear Marks and Spencer

Let me begin by saying how much I love your food - doesn't everyone? The vegetarian kievs, the garlic bread, olives and the rye bread salad sandwiches are my favourites. You see, I've been doing this meat and fish free malarkey since 1992 and the selection of vegetarian food is very good indeed. Furthermore, the vegetarian and vegan labelling on the wine is especially commendable, and doesn't even come close to competitors, so I salute you M&S.

But let's get down to business.

Unfortunately I became embroiled in a mustardy receipt-gate on May 27, 2015 at the M&S in the Fairhill Shopping Centre in Ballymena, hey (local joke). It wasn't on the same scale as Watergate, but nevertheless it did leave a sour taste in my mouth. I'm not in the habit of complaining, in fact this is my first ever consumer complaint (I didn't so much as squeak when the now defunct Air 2000 forgot to feed all the vegetarians on my long haul flight back in 2001).

I decided I'd take advantage of a great three for two deal on the condiments last week. I selected a lemon mayo - wow, taste sensation, I kid you not. My second selection was the garlic mayonnaise. One can never have enough garlic in one's life. Not leaving the mister out, I selected an American mustard mayonnaise, not vegetarian friendly, but then, I didn't care - I wouldn't be eating it. He would. Or at least I hoped he would.

You can imagine my post-purchase delirium when I started to peruse the back of the container and realised to my horror that it was dated Best Before End May 2015 (the other two were quite rightly dated May 2016). Now I realise it's not a crime but the mister would have liked more than a few days to enjoy his condiment.

To be precise, the BBE gave the mister approximately 4.3 days to consume the contents as it neared the end of its life. Now, unless someone is going to devour the entire contents of the mayonnaise (which is not advisable as he or she will inevitably end up on that obese Jesse Pavelka show), this is clearly not a good buy. Did the shelf stacker try to conceal this one rogue bottle? I don't know.

And here's the unfortunate bit.

Normally I'm a diehard keeper of receipts in case of difficulty, but on this occasion the little fellow found its way into the bin. I thought 'what can possibly go wrong with three condiments, a prawn layered salad (not mine) and a chilli chicken salad (again, not mine)?' They aren't likely to break down or require repair in any way.

I'll tell you what went wrong - if the mister had been able to time travel back a few months (like the bloke in that book The Time Traveler's Wife) and enjoy the mustard mayonnaise, I would have been happy, but I was faced with 4.3 days of potentially feeding him a range of dishes from hot dog smothered in mayonnaise, chicken smothered in mayonnaise, veggie burgers smothered in mayonnaise to apple tart smothered in mayonnaise. Do you feel sick yet? Do you get that drowning feeling? Moreover do you get the point that this is Simply M&S Not On?

So the mustard languished in the refrigerator until I was in a position to request a swap. I did just that on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 - seven days after I purchased it (due to work commitments).

I walked straight in and pulled the offending condiment from my handbag. I explained to the nice ladies that no one could possibly consume an entire squeezy of mustard in 4.3 days, otherwise one would become morbidly obese practically overnight.

To my utter horror, Mrs M&S peered at me over her glasses and said no - not without a receipt. But, I said: 'It's blatantly obvious it's an M&S product - it's not as if I'm trying to pass off Lidl own brand mustard!'

Maybe they thought I'd shoplifted it?

Surely, surely, surely, if i wanted to shoplift I'd choose a pallet laden with vegetarian kievs and the extra strong garlic bread along with a selection of fresh side salads. Or I'd make the extra effort, Great Train Robbery style, and drill down into the secret food storage basement and carry out a diamond style heist, procuring a huge selection of only the finest vegetarian canap├ęs, sandwiches and pizzas (I can take or leave dessert, thank you).  

I was broken. I did the rest of my shop and left crestfallen. I was bereft and inconsolable.

I'm now in the habit of walking round shops checking best before dates in case I get my fingers messy again. Yes, M&S, you've dented my faith in shopping.

All I want is a new mustard. As we spend around £100 per week in the store, I think you could at least furnish me with a new, preferably in-date squeezy mustard mayo.

Yes it's my M&S, not yours! I'm happy to enclose a mugshot, back and front of the perpetrator.

Yours in anticipation

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Promotion: Line of Sight - FREE on Amazon from June 3rd - June 7th

It may not be the most inventive headline, but by gum it does the job! Yes, Joffe Books is making the sequel to Standpoint free to download for a limited period. The links are below, but you already knew that, right?

That's the thing about promotions. There's an honesty to them that some authors find a little...well, crass. It puts them in mind of street markets with someone shouting, "Oranges - a pound a bag!" The thing is, sometimes it works. I have a friend who had great success on Twitter by trying different approaches - questions, gags, review quotes, and statements, all followed by a trusty sales link. As she explained to me, some folks will be turned off by your marketing efforts, in which case they're not your target audience.

Gone are the days - if they ever existed - of authors working in their garrets, crafting their world-changing novel, and then passing it on to a publisher to launch it into the world on their behalf, leaving them free to remain in the garret. Whether you're self-published or traditionally published, as the author you will need to engage with your audience and the marketing of your book. 

I can remember working on a bookstall and calling out, "Get your books - they're hot, they're lovely!" We raised a few smiles and maybe made a few extra sales. More importantly, for me anyway, I felt as though I was doing something instead of waiting passively for people to pass by.

So here are a few quick tips for promotions:
- Have a plan and prepare your promotional content in advance.
- Start early to build up some interest. In the case of a free download, like Line of Sight (see what I did there...), it may not be possible to alert people in advance, so focus on other elements of the book to raise its profile.
- Call in favours if you can. You want to reach as wide an audience as possible, preferably one that has different reading communities.
- Try your luck. Experiement. Be bold. Risk.
- Respond. If people reply to you, don't leave them dangling.
- Make time. It will take more time than you think to handle promotions well.
- Consider spending some money. That's right - paid advertising might pay off for you. Do your research carefully to ensure you pick the best options for your needs.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be offered a book launch (and lunch!) with all the trimmings. That's especially true for ebooks. What you can do, however, is create an event online, such as a blog tour, or a Facebook party (that's not the kind where people trash a house), or even a webchat if you have an established fan base.

And now, without further ado, here are the links for Line of Sight (only free June 3rd to June 7th), along with the sales links for the first book in the series, Standpoint.