Sunday, 29 March 2015

4 Reasons Why Travelling Helps Your Writing

1. New Ideas

One of the best things about travelling and/or living abroad is that it shakes up your life and introduces you to a whole new country, as well as new cultures,new experiences, and even a new social circle. In time these then influence your creative output and give you new things to write about. Before I left the U.K in 2008 I was dead creatively. I had nothing to write about. All that changed the moment I touched down on the tarmac of Incheon airport and began a year of teaching in South Korea. The Korean culture shocked me into writing poetry. I wrote about what I saw: the people, the markets, the food, the mountains. I was moved then and I continue to be moved now in China. Indeed, my experience living and teaching amongst the smog-filled streets of Beijing has led to me write an entire collection of sonnets called 'Made in China' which is based upon many of the working people that I have come into contact with.

2. New People

If you're a novelist like myself then creating vibrant, original characters for your novels is a must. Obviously, the truer to life your characters are the more believable they will be to your readers. The problem though is that with writing taking up so much of our time we often don't have enough time to get out and meet a wide array of interesting and colourful people. Travelling can solve all that. When you go and live in a foreign country the desire and need to not be alone and to fit in and become acquainted with your new surroundings drives you to go out and make new friends: friends who in the end have a way of flitting about your imagination when you are dreaming up new worlds and new adventures to tell. At the moment I am editing the first two of my Jack Strong novels and I can honestly say that of the seven main characters there are at least two or three people who I have met on my travels spinning around in each and every character. Amazing eh?

3. New Experiences

New experiences allow us to grow not just as writers but also as people, and so it was during my first year of teaching in Beijing - when I was overcoming challenges on an almost daily basis - that I began to dream up the character of Jack Strong. I wanted a character that was realistic and believable, someone who the reading public would want to read about and follow with interest; someone who though initially quite weak and timid would ultimately get stronger and GROW as a result of his experiences, not in despite of them. If I'd have stayed in the U.K and stuck to my boring civil service job and not done anything wild or adventurous I wouldn't have been able to write about Jack. Why? Because I needed to grow as a person first before I could adequately write about and relate to him as a human being.

4. New Landscapes and Cityscapes

Over the last seven years I've lived and travelled all over South Korea and China, as well as Vietnam, The U.S.A, Canada, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and France. All of these, especially the first two, have had a big impact upon my writing. As mentioned previously the cityscape of Beijing with its jagged outline and grey, urban masses flooded into my poetry soon after I landed. But it hasn't been the only direct influence. My single day in New York in 2010 was enough to force its way into my first novel, with the Alps and many South Korean and Chinese mountains providing the inspiration for many of the landscapes in Jack Strong and the Prisoner of Haa'drath. Indeed, it was whilst hiking a rugged section of the Great Wall of China that I got the idea for the super bouncy rubber forest that is a major feature of the aforementioned book. Could I have dreamt up these aspects of the Jack Strong universe without hitching a ride around Asia and the wider world? Perhaps, but I doubt it. When you are living many of the experiences that you are writing about it gives your writing an immediacy and a vividness that books and documentaries cannot satisfactorily provide.

Final Word

If you would like to comment on any of the points raised within this blog post then please do not hesitate to do so. Also, if you would like to read about Jack Strong and his many adventures around the universe on a strange and magical spaceship then follow the link below:

Thursday, 19 March 2015

5 Reasons Why You Don't Need An Editor For Your Novel

1. You Learn Nothing

Hiring a professional editor to iron out all of your mistakes seems like an obvious thing to do - and certainly many Indy and professional authors favour this route - not least because it gives your manuscript a more polished look before you drop it off at a publisher's or else put it on somebody's kindle via Amazon. The problem with this method however, is that you don't learn from your mistakes since somebody else has done all the hard work for you. Part of the wonder and magic of writing, lies in making mistakes and then after a few months or even a few years rectifying them. It is precisely this process that makes us better, braver, and more competent writers in the long run. Writers aren't born, they evolve.

2. Reading Is Your Ally

A writer needs books like a smoker needs nicotine. If you read enough books - particularly those of your chosen genre - you should already have a good enough idea about what kind of books are being published, which characters the modern reader prefers, and what kind of language is appropriate etc. So long as you keep reading you should be able to tell what works and what doesn't in your own writing, whether you are re-reading your book for the 1st time or the one hundredth. At the end of the day you shouldn't need an editor to tell you that your narrative, for example, is going nowhere - you should be able to work that one out for yourself.

3. Remember Your Friends

If you have some friends (and this includes writers' groups) who are well-versed in literature, and whose opinion you trust, don't be afraid to ask them for feedback. For my first novel, I had at least four or five friends trawling through my work, highlighting mistakes and giving occasional feedback. It was annoying to discover that I'd made some errors but once I'd rectified my mistakes I felt not just better about my project, but also a more accomplished, more knowledgeable writer, not least because with their criticism came some much needed praise.

4. Occasional Mistakes Are OK

What?! Are you serious? Yeah, so long as they are minor and the kind of things that the reader can skip over without too much worry. As a reader myself I prefer the odd spelling mistake any day to bad, unconvincing narratives, two dimensional, cartoonish characters, or else flat, unvibrant prose. Ultimately, as a writer, you have to make sure that from the first page to the very last your story and your characters keep the reader's attention to such a degree that when they finish they go and tell their friends all about the great book they've just read.

5. Cash Returns Are Minimal

As a result of publishing Jack Strong and the Red Giant on Amazon I've probably made around $100 to date. Not great, but not bad either. But this figure would have looked much worse if I'd have forked out between $100 to $400 for a professional editor who may or may not do a good job (I've read books published by the small presses with plenty of mistakes in them). So save your money, invest in your reading and writing and buy a kindle, a computer, or even just some good books. Ultimately, things like these will prove to be of lasting benefit to you and your (hopefully long) writing career.

Final Word

If you would like to comment on any or all of the points raised in this blog post then please do not hesitate to do so. I would love to hear from you.

If you would like to read my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures on a mysterious spaceship then please click on the link below:

Thursday, 5 March 2015

4 Things You Need To Know About Rejection

1. Rejection Sucks.

There are few things in life that are comparable to spending months, even years churning out a novel only to see it repeatedly rejected by an array of agents and publishers. There have been times where this hasn't phased me in the least, where I've just shrugged and carried on regardless, but there have been other times where I've been left feeling so crestfallen that it has affected my mood for days. But though I've felt down at times, I've never given up, never stopped writing, and never stopped believing in the worthiness of my characters and my project. So if you're reading this and you're either writing a novel or about to start work on one you have to prepare yourself for being rejected, and to at times feeling really horrible about it. It's all part of the game unfortunately. But what matters in the end is that you pick up the proverbial pen, keep on churning out the pages, and never ever give-up.

2. Rejection Happens To Everyone

Everyone gets rejected. Just because an agent and/or publisher turns you down doesn't mean that your novel is rubbish. They might not have read it for starters, or they may have given it only the most passing of glances, or they may feel that your novel is not the right fit for them. But whatever the reason it's important not to think too deeply about it, especially since agents and publishers rarely, if ever, give you any kind of detailed response for you to consider. All you can do is keep plugging away with your writing and reading - and in the process make your project as good and as professional as it can be - whilst simultaneously sending it off to other would-be agents and publishers. Besides, it does you good to remember that J.K Rowling, George Orwell, Stephen King, Dr. Seuss, C.S Lewis, Dan Browne, Vladamir Nabokov, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, William Golding, Jack Kerouac, and Frank Herbert, to name but a few were all rejected many times by agents and publishers alike. So if your book is rejected, just remember that you're in hallowed company. If they were wrong about Stephen King et al they could be wrong about you too ...

3. Rejection Is Never As Bad As You Think

As strange as it may seem you can at times take a lot of solace out of rejections. As I said earlier, agents and publishers rarely send out detailed responses, so if you do receive personal replies from the editor and/or agent it's good for you to remember that you've done well enough to bypass the 'reader', even if you have fallen at the second stage. Since most agents and publishers receive anywhere from 50 - 100+ manuscripts each week it means that yours has finished top of the pile. You're in the ballpark so to speak - since the 'reader' has seen enough quality and promise to pass it onto their boss - if not exactly hitting a home run. When I first started to get these rejection slips I took it quite badly, both because of their non-standard personal replies - their comments always seemed to find bone somehow- and because I realised just how tantalisingly close I'd come to being asked to submit the full manuscript. But these days I try to focus on the positives, namely that my two books have passed through the 'reader's hands and into those of the agent on 7 or 8 occasions. I'm clearly in the proverbial ballpark and like any big hitter I'm going to keep on practicing my swing until I hit that home run. I'm not going to give up and neither should you.

4. Opportunity Knocks

One of the best things that has come out of having my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant rejected is that it has given me the opportunity to re-visit the original manuscript and to see if I can improve it in some way. It turns out that I can. I'm currently on the second read through on my kindle and so far I have highlighted almost 600+ areas that can either be deleted or improved upon. Whilst it's true that these changes are all relatively minor, ranging from punctuation issues, some slight word changes, to  the occasional pruning of the text, I believe that it will ultimately make my book both a better, smoother read, and a more realistic prospect for any would-be agent and/or publisher. I'm a confident writer with a lot of belief in my work, but I'm not a vain-glorious one. I make mistakes. But I also possess the drive, courage, and honesty to take another look at my work, and to engage in some minor re-decorations where necessary. And you should too. Don't be afraid in the event of rejection, to give your novel another edit or else pass it onto a trusted friend to have a look at. It will be all the better for it. Besides, after you've given it a few snips and plugged a few holes in the plot you can always send it back out to the agents and publishers, only this time it will have a better chance of success than before.

Keep on swinging, the home run beckons ...

If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below: