Thursday, 30 December 2010

Introduction(s)


By Peter Stuart Smith

OK, let's start with a confession - not to Matt Lynn and the other members of the Curzon Group, who already know which way is up - but to everyone else. Back in November, Matt introduced three new members: James Barrington, James Becker and Max Adams, all writing thrillers, but in three very different genres. And the thing is, not to beat about the bush, they're really all me.

We wondered if I should blog as three different people, but I think it would soon have become kind of obvious that these three authors shared some kind of bizarre - and possibly illegal - relationship, because they would always seem to be in more or less the same place at pretty much the same time. In the end, it seemed easier and probably more sensible to come clean straight away.

My real name's Peter Stuart Smith, currently writing under three noms de plume, as our French neighbours phrase it. So am I just wildly schizophrenic, or is there some half-way good reason for these multiple identities? There's a perception in the world of publishing that an author's name which begins with letters at the beginning of the alphabet is more likely to be found by a casual browser, so clearly the ideal name for any author is Aaron Aardvark, except that nobody would take him seriously. Anyway, I liked the name 'James Barrington' and the first few books I wrote came out under that name. Then my agent suggested a new genre, and that meant a new identity, and so 'James Becker' was hatched, or whatever the appropriate term is. Finally, 'Max Adams' emerged as a writer of WW2 thrillers.

A bit of history, just to complete the introduction(s). I spent about 10 years trying to knock my first book into a publishable shape, and then started banging (metaphorically) on the doors of every literary agent in the book. Finally, in 2003, I was taken on by Sheil Land Associates, and they flogged Overkill to Macmillan after a short auction. That was followed by Pandemic, Foxbat, Timebomb and Payback. Then Penguin wanted a ghost with a military background, and the result of that was Joint Force Harrier, a non-fiction book about Royal Navy operations in Afghanistan, also written as 'James Barrington'.

My agent is Luigi Bonomi, now the boss of LBA (Luigi Bonomi Associates). He reckoned there was still some mileage in 'Brownian' thrillers, and sold the idea to Transworld, where I became 'James Becker', with three books out so far: The First Apostle, The Moses Stone and The Messiah Secret. Finally, Macmillan wanted somebody to write WW2 thrillers, and so after a short gestation period 'Max Adams' emerged blinking into the spotlight as the author of To Do Or Die. All three of my alter egos have books out next year - Manhunt ('James Barrington'), The Nosferatu Scroll ('James Becker') and Right and Glory ('Max Adams').

This first post has been somewhat delayed, for which I apologize. We had a fairly dramatic domestic crisis, even now only partly resolved, and then I got stuck in New York because of the snow at Heathrow after a speaking engagement on board the Queen Mary II, and that sort of delayed things as well. But I'll do my best to contribute something each week from now on.

Finally, and just getting over jet-lag, I had a bit of a shock when I walked into the local W H Smith to find my face staring at me from the front cover of the January 2011 edition of Writers' Forum. An interview I'd almost forgotten about, brought vividly back to life! Still a shock.

But it's a real pleasure to be here, and out of the closet, so to speak.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Middle of a Book


by Matt Lynn


I did an interview the other day with Write Words. One of the questions was what is the worst thing about writing? I found that a hard one, because on the whole I really enjoy writing, which is I guess why I do it for a living.

But in the end I answered: the middle. The beginning of a book is exciting, because it is a fresh start. And you always think you are about to write the most amazing book ever.

And the end is exciting, because it’s nearly finished, and you can see how the whole thing looks.

But there is a chunk in the middle, between about 40,000 and 60,000 words, where it is all a bit of a slog. It’s then you need to dig deep to find the will to get it finished, and not to get distracted.

I’m there right now with ‘Ice Force’. Getting up to about 60,000 words though, so hopefully after Christmas I’ll be into the home straight.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

It's All About Writing.


by Leigh Russell



It’s easy to lament the sad truth that real talent so often goes unrecognised by decision makers in the industry, but sometimes it’s wonderful to celebrate talent for its own sake. Recently invited to judge a short story competition I was blown away by the standard of writing submitted. There are so many talented writers around most of whom will never reach the dizzy heights of publication. (Believe me, it is a very dizzy experience – you can read about the rollercoaster ride of being published on many author blogs, my own included.)
Yes, it’s great to be published, but the real buzz is writing. Anyone passionate about writing knows that visceral excitement when you write words that perfectly convey your meaning. There’s a magic to it that no publishing deal could ever match. Yes, it’s fantastic to be paid for doing what you love doing, and to have the financial validation of experienced publishers. But writing is the real joy.
And writing is a great leveller; you never know where it might take you. As an established author with two bestsellers to my name, I’ve been invited to run a workshop at Get Writing hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, just eighteen months after my first book was published. A lot can happen in less than two years!
A conference like Get Writing is exciting because we will all be rubbing shoulders together - published authors, aspiring writers, serious students of writing – all writers and all passionate about writing. And this time next year, any one of us might have a bestseller on the shelves.
I’ll be sharing some of my tips about how I write my bestselling books at my workshop, because the lure of making money from writing can’t be ignored. But it’s really a red herring. As a character in Get Shorty says, “I once asked this literary agent what kind of writing paid the best. He said, ‘Ransom notes.’ ”
So my advice to aspiring writers? Don’t let the desire for a lucrative publishing deal override the joy you find in writing. If you do, you might as well be penning ransom notes – (something no one in their right mind would ever do, I hasten to add!)

Leigh Russell
http://www.noexit.co.uk/authorpages/leigh_russell.php
http://leighrussell.blogspot.com/

Friday, 17 December 2010

2011 FOR WRITERS




By Richard Jay Parker


As we head into New Year there's only thing that's certain - uncertainty.


If you're a writer or reader who likes to keep abreast of what's going on in the industry you'll see there's a lot of it about - ebooks, rights negotiation for territories no one's familiar with, bookshop and library closures, piracy, the recession etc etc


It's the equivalent to turning on the TV news. It's all bad. At least, it seems that way.


All we seem to hear now is that nothing can be depended on and that there's no money. Scarcely a new concept for writers - uncertainty and penury. Most of us have served our indentures on those fronts.


It's easy to be sucked into the black hole of despair but then cynicism is always the easiest recourse.


Speaking to an insider this year he told me that last year's Frankfurt Fair was full of doom and gloom but this year everyone knew what the situation was and were just getting on with it - like we all have to.


There are good writers out there and good publishers and agents who are still trying to operate.


As we head into 2011 it's worth remembering that and trying not to focus too much on the forecasts. After all, what can writers do about it? Lose sleep over your characters - you at least have control over what happens to them. And people want to be entertained by good stories, whatever the format.


It's been the end of western civilisation as we know it ever since I can remember. Why should 2011 be any different?


Thanks to everyone for dropping in to the blog and leaving comments. It's been great to have your support. Hope you enjoy a restful Christmas and a very healthy, creative and positive New Year.



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For more and competition results for Christmas Serial Killer competition to win copies of STOP ME visit http://www.richardjayparker.com/





Friday, 10 December 2010

Trying To Write At Christmas?


By Richard Jay Parker

If you’re like me, the next couple of weeks aren’t usually that conducive to writing. Does a writer truly take a break though? Even when you’re traversing the high street and frantically trying to find some inspiration for gift ideas, the imagination has a sly habit of skulking back to any unfinished creative business.

Mine does this all the time - when I’m sleeping, when I’m eating and when I’m (meant to be) socialising. Subconscious thought is often a very good way of solving a problem or refining an idea. It’s frequently better than trying to focus a hundred percent and I’ve found that, after a night of my brain chewing something over, I often wake with the solution to a problem I spent the day before trying to solve.

To use another worn metaphor – it’s like that swan gliding along the surface of the water while underneath its flippers are paddling furiously.

Whether you like Christmas or not it’s full of the sort of diversion that will allow your brain to function in a way it probably doesn’t the rest of the year. Daily routines are changed and thought patterns get a different work out to normal including that classic reboot method of systematically attacking them with alcohol.

It is good to get away from the keyboard, if only for a few days of gluttony, and the start of a New Year is a great way to reflect on what you’ve done and what you’d like to do.

I do enjoy Christmas and will dutifully immerse myself in its excesses purely because of the above. The more I enjoy myself, the better start I’ll have to my writing year.

I’ve convinced myself – how about you?
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Last chance to win a signed copy of Richard's novel STOP ME in Christmas competition. Visit http://www.richardjayparker.com/
(foot of home page)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Let It Snow


by Matt Lynn


It’s cold at the moment, as you’ve probably noticed. Everyone else has, understandably enough, been moaning about the weather. But when you are half way through writing a book called ‘Ice Force’ it does have certain advantages. When I need to get in the mood for another description of snow storms swirling through the Arctic glaciers, all I have to do is step out into the garden.

One of the things you have to do as writer is create a believable atmosphere. Books vary, of course. Some are set in very, ordinary everyday locations -- the suburbs, for example. I like to set my books in fairly exotic places. I think that is part of the appeal of the adventure-action thriller genre. There is a big element of escapism in these books. Nobody wants to escape to Swindon. They want the book to take them somewhere exciting, and preferably dangerous as well.

That does, of course, mean the writer has to create believable detail. You need to make it real, without overdoing the travelogues. The best way is to focus on little things. When I was writing about Helmand in Afghanistan for Death Force, for example, I mentioned the smell of the wild irises that grow in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In Ice Force, I’ve mentioned the grinding noise that the plates of ice moving beneath you make as you trudge towards the North Pole.

The atmosphere has to be woven into every sentence you write.

And, of course, it helps if it is snowing outside while you are doing it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Serious Business


by Leigh Russell


In unusual circumstances, books can be published within weeks. Michael Jackson’s biography was clearly prepared in advance and given regular updates, right up until his death at which point I seem to recall there was a race to be the first to have a book on the shelves.
For most authors, the process takes longer. There is a time lag between delivery of the final manuscript and publication. So the manuscript for Road Closed was delivered in December 2009, if I remember correctly, for publication in June 2010.


Addicted to writing, I started on Dead End as soon as Road Closed was finished in December 2009. By writing I refer not simply to the secretarial task of committing words to paper or screen, but also to the thinking, research and editing that go into producing a book.
A year has passed and YESTERDAY I sent Dead End to my publisher! The story that has dominated my thoughts for the past year is now out of my hands. Finished. Handed over. Delivered. Submitted. Gone.


Am I pleased with what I have achieved? Am I excited about the publication of my next book? As is so often the case, reality is very different to my expectations. So yes, I would have expected to feel happy at delivering my manuscript, but in reality a word like terrified might be closer to how I’m feeling right now!


True to form, I’m already working on my next book. The final manuscript is due with my agent in a month’s time, so I’m currently working on final edits for the book that follows Dead End. I’ll have to wait more than a few weeks to see that one in print but, in the meantime, you can guess what I’ll be doing... yes, the killer in my fifth book is already clamouring to be heard.


The last thing I want to do right now is think about Dead End, as it is prepares to be launched into the public domain, to run the gauntlet of reviews.


While writing is fun, I am beginning to realise that being an author is a serious business.

http://www.noexit.co.uk/authorpages/leigh_russell.php

Friday, 3 December 2010

How Does A Writer Measure Success?




By Richard Jay Parker


Jeffrey Deaver said 'I'm an overnight success after twenty years.'


As a writer, it's very difficult to gauge the extent of your success. If you've written a book which you want to have published and you haven't had it published, do you consider yourself a failure?


To have written anything - whether it be a short story or a novel - is a great achievement. But we're always eager for the next stage.


Every writer I know, whatever stage they are in their career, wants that next thing. To be published, to write a screenplay, to have a better deal etc etc.


Even best selling authors who have a worldwide readership are looking for something else - I want to write something worthy, I don't want to be as commercial, I don't want to be pigeonholed etc etc


This isn't a writer thing, it's a human thing. It's our nature but sometimes it's good to focus on how far we've come rather than how much further we'd like to go. Look back one year. Whatever stage you're at - has your writing improved? Moreover, are you enjoying it?


If the answer is 'yes' then I think you can afford to stop beating yourself up - at least for a couple of minutes.


As the experienced can testify - it's a long, frustrating road. No need to kick yourself all the way along it.
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Only a few days left to win a copy of Richard's novel. Go to http://www.richardjayparker.com/ (Foot of page)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Don't Attack The Customer


by Matt Lynn
I’m not one of those writers who worries about digital books, the decline of the local bookshop, or the closure of libraries. We are story-tellers, and there has always been a demand for stories, and an enthusiastic audience for them. How they are delivered – round a campfire, on a printed page, or on an electronic screen – doesn’t make much difference.

What does worry me is that the publishing industry might repeat some of the mistakes of the music business.

In The Bookseller today, Richard Mollet, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, is demanding that the Internet Service Providers should be clamping down on piracy.

This is the wrong route.

With my other hat as a business journalist on I’ve written a lot about the decline of the big music labels. What they got wrong was trying to sue their main customers – the music fans who download music. But a business can’t constantly be treating its customers like criminals. It doesn’t make any sense.

Interestingly, the music business is in pretty good shape. Total spending on music, when you add up CD sales, licensing fees, downloads and live performance earnings, has been going up over the last few years. It’s just the old music labels that have been struggling – largely because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with a changed market.

I hope the publishers don’t end up going down the same road.

The story-telling business is in good shape, even if the delivery changes. But attacking our customers is not the right way to respond.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Pathetic Fallacy

by Leigh Russell,

When I was a student (a very long time ago) I remember learning about the Pathetic Fallacy in literature, where natural events reflect human experience. It seemed to involve a lot of bad weather: Lear, a former king, naked in the tempest; storms at times of emotional turmoil in Thomas Hardy.

I was thinking about the pathetic fallacy while driving into work this morning in ominous weather. I don’t enjoy driving in the best of conditions and at this time of year I always start to feel a little nervous. What if the roads are icy and my car skids...?

This kind of anxiety may be pathetic in a different way, but being a worrier probably feeds into my writing and I wonder if a tendency for Shakespeare’s “horrible imaginings” goes with the territory of being a crime writer. Readers often ask how I think up plots for my crime novels and the answer is simple; I start with a ‘What if...?’ question, imagining a worst case scenario.
Let’s say you work in an office. One evening you are the last person to leave. As you are going to bed you recall leaving your mobile phone on your desk at work, so you go in early next morning to arrive before any of your colleagues. Entering the office you discover a dead woman sprawled on the floor. Only a few people have keys to your office, and no one admits to knowing the murder victim.

This raises a number of questions. Who is the unknown victim? Why was she killed? You were last out at the end of the day and first in next morning - does suspicion fall on you? How do the police find the killer? If you write answers to the many questions raised by the body in the office, a basic crime thriller will virtually write itself.

Of course it’s not that simple. It takes a certain type of imagination to develop a starting point like this into a plausible novel with intriguing plot twists and convincing characters, and this requires a lot of thought. So life as an author can be hard work. Following the writing itself comes the need for promotion, and success has imposed increasing demands on my time until there are times when I watch my life slipping out of control, like a car on an icy road...

As for the road ahead, if anyone had predicted sixteen months ago that I would have two bestsellers to my name by now, one of them shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, I would have laughed. So I’m taking my journey as an author one day at a time. Who knows what the future holds?

At least my car didn’t skid this morning - although if there was any ice on the road I wouldn’t have seen it through the dense fog up ahead...

Leigh Russell is the author of the Geraldine Steel series
http://www.noexit.co.uk/authorpages/leigh_russell.php
CUT SHORT (2009)
ROAD CLOSED (2010)
DEAD END (2011)

Friday, 26 November 2010

CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE




By Richard Jay Parker


A crisis of confidence is something most writers are familiar with. Projects - that we pour hours of time into, burn oil over and ponder even when we should be focussed on the more practical demands of life - can sometimes have a sneaky knack of appearing worthless in the wrong light.


Light is the operative word here as it's usually a certain time of day that it happens. It's like that moment when too much sunshine pours into a room and makes everything look a bit tired and in need of a spring clean.


Everyone has their low ebb moment not only during the course of creating an entire project but every day of that process. It obviously depends what your writing timetable is. I usually experience mine at about three in the afternoon. At that point, everything I've written looks a bit tired and in need of a spring clean - or a delete button.


Even though I don't want to, it's at this point that I take a break. As most writers know, there aren't ever enough hours in the day to achieve everything you want and taking yourself away from a project seems like time wasted. But it's worth it because nothing constructive can be achieved when you've stopped seeing the words for the trees.


I usually re-examine everything first thing in the morning - my best time - and often find my reservations aren't as harshly felt as my tired mind convinced me they were.


It doesn't always work. Often the work does need a kick in the pants but at least I have some new reserves of energy to do it.


So, at three today, I think I'll go for a walk and think of something besides my plot and characters. Yeah, right.



Win Richard's book by coming up with the name of a Christmas serial killer at: http://www.richardjayparker.com/ (Bottom Of Home Page)






Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Celebrating Ourselves...



by Matt Lynn


It was National Freelancer’s Day yesterday, although not very surprisingly I missed it. Indeed, I suspect that all the freelancers out there missed it: partly because they are always very, very busy with other stuff; and partly because, by definition, we all work by ourselves, so we aren’t around other freelancers, who might remind us to celebrate.

Still, the Telegraph had an interesting survey to mark the occasion. It found that freelancers were on the whole happier than people who had jobs. Not very surprising, really. If you consider that most jobs consist of some idiot shouting at you all morning, then getting a terrible, over-priced sandwich that tastes like mouldy cardboard, with some bloke you’re only friends with because he happens to sit next to you, and then spending the afternoon in a crushingly dull meeting, it is surprising that us freelancers aren’t even further in the lead.

Its ten years now since I had a job in an office, so I’ve spent a decade now sitting around at home writing stuff. It takes a lot of discipline, of course. You have to get up in the morning and crack on with your work. You need to set yourself targets and deadlines.

And it has it ups and downs. But when you hit a down it is worth remembering that you are a lot happier than you would be in an office.

In fact next year I might even celebrate National Freelancers Day – possibly with a plate of foie gras and a glass of Bordeaux at my desk.

Friday, 19 November 2010

When Do I Give Up?




By Richard Jay Parker


I can't claim any credit for this week's topic. I found an interesting forum asking agents as well as writers how many negative responses it would take before they give up on a project.


Have a look HERE


The immediate answer is, of course, never.


There are many stories about writers having their material rejected myriad times before it gets published and is a major hit. Frederick Forsyth's DAY OF THE JACKAL is the classic example of this. It was rejected fifty thousand times before it was published. OK - I may be exaggerating. Fifty is the official figure.


Then there's the tragic story about one of my favourite books A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES which John Kennedy Toole's mother managed to get published after he took his life. His suicide was in part due to his failure to get it into print.


As far as I'm concerned, if a writer feels absolutely passionate about a project they should continue to submit and hope it finds that agent or publisher who feels the same way and wants to champion it.


Belief in your own talent in the face of rejection is one of the most difficult things a writer has to deal with.


But this gruelling process has to be tempered by a big dose of realism. Having slaved over and polished a cherished manuscript for so long it's easy to get obsessed by a piece of work. If a writer receives constructive rejections then taking the comments on board is a step past the 'standing on a rock howling into the wind' stage.


It's a commericial world out there and, although you should never compromise your goals as a writer, it's always good to familiarise yourself with the territory your work will have to traverse. Research is a good way to fill those days when you're waiting for responses.


More importantly, it's vital to always be writing because that next project may well supplant the last one.


It brings us back to that concept of nothing we write ever being a waste of time. If we didn't pen the last project then we would never have used that experience to lay the foundation for the one we might have success with.


Win a copy of Richard's book at http://www.richardjayparker.com/ (foot of home page)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Advice For Budding Thriller Writers



by Matt Lynn


I’m still really enjoying the round-table discussions hosted over at the International Thriller Writers website. This week, they are discussing the one piece of advice you would give budding thriller writers.

So what would my advice be?

First, learn about structure. Thrillers are very mechanical. They need great engineering. They are a bit like cars in that respect. They can look beautiful, but if they don’t work properly, then what’s the point (unless it’s a Jag, of course, in which case we’ll overlook the fact it doesn’t work).

So the most important thing you need to do is learn about structure and pace and plot. For my money, the best way to do that is to take an early Frederick Forsyth novel, and go through it again and again until you have learned absolutely what he is doing. Then do it for yourself. It’s a bit like taking a BMW apart, then re-assembling. If you do that enough times, you will figure out how to make a car. Same with a thriller.

Next, get with the times. Thrillers are stories of events. They reflect the world around them. So don’t write an old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller. Think about private military corporations (my subject). Or financial conspiracies. Or Iran. Or piracy. But make it something now and fresh we haven’t read about before.

Okay, that’s two pieces of advice – but both valuable.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Co-Incidences in Fiction...

by Leigh Russell

On the spur of the moment we once went to visit a public gardens that turned out to be closed. Having travelled so far, we decided to drive on to the nearest town. As we drew level with a sign welcoming us to Milton Keynes, my mobile rang. My daughter was calling because she was bored waiting for a train in... Milton Keynes. I can’t recall the purpose of her visit, but like ours it was an unprecedented trip to Milton Keynes and neither of us had known of the other’s visit beforehand. It was fluke that we chanced to be there at the same time, and discovered we were there together before either of us left.

I could tell you a few more coincidences that have happened to me - although one is so strange that I wouldn’t relate it here for fear of being dismissed as an advocate of impossible supernatural events. It really was that unlikely.I’m not alone in this. Most people can recall at least one astonishing coincidence they have experienced. How often do we introduce anecdotes with the words, ‘You’ll never believe what happened!’ But of course we do believe the story that follows, because it’s true.

So how is it that real life can throw up such coincidences with impunity when my editor warned me early on to avoid coincidences in my writing because ‘Readers don’t like them’?When writing my crime thrillers I try to make them believable, researching small details to create a convincing illusion so my readers ‘buy into’ the world of my book. I’m pleased to come across epithets like ‘plausible’ and ‘authentic’ when reviewers comment on my fictional forensic science. (It should be authentic. My advisers range from an experience medical practitioner to a professor of forensic medicine, and even the human remains department of the Natural History Museum!)

And I spend time working out how my detective can come across an essential piece of evidence without any unlikely coincidences which my readers might find unbelievable.So it annoys me intensely that real life can be completely absurd and ridiculously far-fetched when we authors can’t take similar liberties. It’s just not fair!

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Wonder Of Blogs




By Richard Jay Parker


I've always worked to deadlines. A large proportion of writers generate material to them whether they be self imposed or enforced by a publisher, producer etc. A deadline is like a net around all those butterflies that you could quite happily allow to flutter about your head indefinitely


I'm usually a pretty ruthless, often unrealistic taskmaster. Writing is one of those processes that seems to happen in spite of everything else. I'm lucky to be able to devote daytime hours to it as well as cramming extra into the evenings (what a thorough party animal I am) but there'a always that gauntlet of reality to contend with before you can sit down to service your imagination.


It can be pretty frustrating at times - everything's in your head but you know that there's an assault course of mundane chores to tick off before you can open the tap.


It's during that time when deadlines are bad things. Blood pressure and clock hands accelerate and the work you wanted to have done by today becomes work you think you'll have done by next week.


I'm currently in that very position. I wanted to have a fine edit of a manuscript completed by today but know it's not going to happen. So what the hell am I doing writing this blog when I could be making time?


That's the beauty of writing a blog. It's like turning off the the treadmill for five minutes and collecting your thoughts.


I'll finish my edit next week because an extra day or two really isn't going to make any difference in the scheme of things. I also know my own deadlines are pretty merciless so I've got some leeway.


It's not always the case when you have people breathing down your neck but being frantic is the worst state of mind to be in when you need to focus.


Half an hour on a blog is like a deep breath. Just writing this has made me feel better.


Back to it now.


Maybe I can finish by today...


Win a copy of Richard's novel in time for Christmas by clicking the link at the bottom of the home page http://www.richardjayparker.com/





Tuesday, 9 November 2010

International Thriller Writers


by Matt Lynn


The International Thriller Writers website has started a series of online roundtable discussions about thriller writing – sort of like a conference panel, bit without all the travelling.
I’ll be taking part in a couple of the upcoming discussions. But I think the first in the series looks really good: ‘Why Do You Read/Write Thrillers’.
It’s a fascinating issue for any writer. I mean, obviously I love thrillers. But I don’t only love thrillers. There are loads of different kinds of books I really enjoy, and I would be just as happy to write.
In the discussion, I think Todd Ritter gives the best answer when he says: “Reading a thriller that makes my pulse race takes me briefly into a world of danger and fear and excitement that I won’t experience in real life. It’s an escape and, well, a thrill”.
Still, that is more of an answer to the question of why you read thrillers rather than why you write them.
For me, I think the answer is that the thriller is such a great canvass. They are widescreen stories. They have action, characters, jokes and drama, but they can also take in politics, economics, war, technology, and international relations. They are very outwards looking books, which weave stories out of current events, but which also, at their best, are timeless. Other genres tend to be much smaller scale, rooted in one place or time.
But I guess every thriller writer will have a different answer to the question.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Welcome To Our New Members

The Curzon Group has not just one but three new members. James Barrington is the author of best-selling thrilers such as 'Foxbat' and 'Overkill'. James Becker is the writer who has been making a splash with books such as 'The First Apostle' and 'The Messiah Secret'. And Max Adams made his debut last year with the first in a series of WWII thrillers called 'To Do or Die'. All three of them will be regularly blogging here....

Why Libraries Matter....


by Leigh Russell

Recent figures show the number of active library users has dropped by over 2% while visits to library websites increased by almost 50 per cent. In 1849 William Ewart introduced a Public Libraries Bill. Conservatives objected, concerned that the middle and upper classes would pay for a service used only by the working classes. One MP announced "people have too much knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage.” Nevertheless the Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850.The 19th century MP who complained that reading makes people more difficult to control had a point. Setting aside powerful arguments about the arts, culture and the advancement of knowledge, reading is essential if we are to have a population able to think for themselves. Because reading gives the individual access to all the information (and misinformation) in the world.

Over the past four centuries we have established a largely literate society in the West but literacy is losing its appeal. Today’s children feed their imaginations playing interactive games where their parents’ need for stories was supplied by books. We have the technology to move towards a largely post-literate society. All the text we need can be recorded with voice activated software for a listening audience rather than a readership. It’s easier. Already we access much of our knowledge from the television or online, and we see more stories on the small screen than the page.

But watching or listening to stories or information is a very different experience to reading. Apart from the argument about using imagination, when you’re reading you can speed up, slow down, pause to reflect, reread and refer back to an earlier passage. There is no one else’s voice to influence or interpret the meaning of the words for you. As reader you control how you read and interpret the words for yourself.All of this makes books not only valuable but “an essential part of having and educated and literate population” as Wikipedia puts it. So it is worrying that libraries are not mobbed by people wanting to access free books.When Britain’s first public lending library opened in Manchester in the mid 19th century it was seen as an event so significant for literacy and democracy that Dickens visited, saying this was an institution “knowing no sect, no party and no distinction; nothing but the public want and the public good.”

He would surely be turning in his grave to know that libraries are losing their popularity. If enough people lose interest in books, we risk losing our independent access to knowledge and even our ability to think for ourselves.

Friday, 5 November 2010

LEAVE ME ALONE!




By Richard Jay Parker
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I'm writing this as I write everything - alone. I'm not tragic (although I'm sure some would disagree) and I'm not a misanthrope but I do always have to work in solitude.

Other writers can work at their laptop in a coffee shop, with their family screaming around them and in the busy office when the boss isn't looking. This is often out of necessity but some writers actually thrive on having frenetic activity around them.

A friend of mine writes with heavy metal blasting throughout the creative process. I just couldn't do it. I need quiet - it's the only way I can hear the minutes zipping worryingly by.

Does a writer's environment dictate the sort of material they produce or do we all just learn to adapt to our workspace wherever it is?

During my time in TV I wrote scripts to order in offices, studios, on location, in hotels and in (lots of) pubs but I've never retreated to a rented cottage/house etc to write a book. I have friends who swear by it. Some do it for a weekend but I think I'd be hopeless. I'd think of it as a holiday so the last thing I'd want to do is work. I hear this happens more often than not - especially when a group of writers get together. Six months would be good.

Personally I do my best work when I'm not distracted and home is the place where the environment is familiar enough for me to imagine I'm elsewhere. Does that make sense?

So if I want to go somewhere interesting, exciting, and dangerous - I don't go anywhere.
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Re last week's blog - thanks for your responses about X Factor for writers. Bizarrely I found this piece by Katie Allen in The Bookseller this week.
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Read more about Richard's work at http://www.richardjayparker.com/

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Writing...Fast or Slow


by Matt Lynn


In case you hadn’t noticed, this is National Novel Writing Month. An American initiative, it aims to get people writing a whole novel during November. It doesn’t make much difference in my house, of course. Just about every month is novel writing month for me. But the Independent has an interesting take on it, listing some of the great books that have been written in a few weeks. I’m not sure why they included Sebastian Faulk’s James Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Cry’, because it is a laughably poor book. But it has to be admitted there are some great books there. ‘On The Road’ for example took only three weeks. So did ‘A Study in Scarlet’, and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even Dostoyevsky managed to knock out ‘The Gambler’ in only 26 days – although he doesn’t strike you as a fast sort of a writer, in the way that Dickens does.

So is it better for writers to rattle out a book fairly quickly? I certainly think there is something to be said for it, particularly when you are writing thrillers. They are by definition pacey books. A sense of speed is one of the things that readers like about them. Like roller-coasters, they need to be designed to go very fast, and have lots of twists and turns. It is easier to create that kind of breathlessness when you are working at high speed yourself.

That said, you don’t want that to turn into sloppiness. The other key element of a thriller is structure. And that takes time to build. There is nothing worse than reading a book that is all over the place, because the writer hasn’t taken enough time to construct the plot, or do the research.

My own solution is to spend ages on the outline – the structure – but then to write pretty quickly. But I’m sure every writer has their own approach.

Friday, 29 October 2010

THE X FACTOR FOR WRITERS?





By Richard Jay Parker


On the whole, the process of writing is pretty unspectacular. The results can be be sensational but, bar our own internal enthusiasm, creating isn't really a spectator sport.


When writers get together to chat they may briefly touch on their idiosyncratic writing routines - times of the day when they're at their most creative etc - but most of the talk will be about the material itself, agents, publishers, other writers that excite them etc.


It's probably because the actual activity of writing is so very personal. Everyone has their own approach. Some like to sit and let the words come while others don't turn on their computer until they've written copious notes and know exactly where they're headed.


Whichever is the case, its only exciting for us when we're in full flow.


This is something of a relief as it means there can't be any sort of 'X Factor,' 'Strictly Writing Idol' (Strictly Bone Idle in my case) show to audition and ritually humiliate up and coming literary talent. No panel of industry 'experts' to pitch material to in front of an arena audience.


It wouldn't make good TV but I wouldn't put it past them. Everything that ends in 'ing' (singing, cooking, acting, dancing, skating, backstabbing etc) can now be nationally validated by supercilious gurus or a phone vote. Writing could be next.


I wonder how rich a culture we would have if it had always been the case.


Sorry, Mr Hemingway you've been voted off.


Miss Austen - you're fired. Particularly as you're letter writing skills are so appalling (see Matt's blog below)


Thankfully writing is about imagination and then skillfully implanting that in someone else's. Something that can't be controlled by producers desperate to harness the next thing to strip and degrade.


But maybe one day I'll have to be in front of a 'celebrity' panel pitching a thriller. I'll be stopped mid sentence and told to choose something else. I'll change it to a celeb biog and everyone will cheer.


In the meantime, 'I'm A Writer Get Me Out Of Here!'



More about Richard's work at http://www.richardjayparker.com/





Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Don't Diss Jane Austen



by Matt Lynn

Jane Austen has been getting some flak in the press, although I guess she can survive it. An academic has been studying her letters, noted how confused they are, and how different they are from her books, and concluded that her editor must have done a lot of re-writes on her books.

That story got lots of play in newspapers, and on the web. For some reason, people like the notion that authors don’t really write their own stuff, and there is some team of the people in the publishing house who actually put the book together

But anyway, whoever came up with this piece of research obviously knows very little about how writers actually work. There is a big difference between the writing we do for a living, which on the whole we take very seriously, edit and polish and worry about, and the writing we do like everyone else, which is dashed off without much thought.

Now obviously I don’t have much in common with Austen. I’m better at tank battles, for starters. Plus I’m still alive. But my e-mails, letters, Xmas cards, and indeed blog entries might well lead you to conclude that I couldn’t possibly have written my books either.

But, of course I did. And so, of course, did Jane Austen.

Friday, 22 October 2010

THE WRITERS' WAITING ROOM




By Richard Jay Parker


I'm in the twilight area between my new book being edited and completed. It's the fine edit and polishing stage and it evokes all sorts of feelings - from tentative excitement to nausea induced by repeatedly reading paragraphs until they don't make any sense.


When is a project ready? Like the small details I mentioned last week I think you rely on your gut. My own personal yardstick is if I'm still changing lines when I'm reading through, it isn't ready. If I'm changing lines, rethinking and then changing them back to how they were, it's ready.


But when it's at the point when I think it's ready to leave home there isn't usually a celebration. I always find completing a project a bit of an anticlimax. A brief relief before anticipating the opinions of the people who are going to read it.


Imagine a waiting room containing all the writers of the world who are waiting for feedback from agents and publishers. There would be plenty of reading material to share. The camaraderie would be good as would the quality of the coffee. Ok - perhaps we're talking an arena.


Maybe somebody should set up a cyber waiting room that could contain the writers of the world - a place to knock about and compare rejection bruises. Any takers?


Or maybe it should be run more like an AA meeting. Hi, my name is X, I'm a writer, my manuscript is called X and I haven't had a response for X days.



But now back to those polishes. I'll just read it through once more.


And maybe just once more.


And maybe just once more.




More about Richard's work at http://www.richardjayparker.com/


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The End of Dead End

How do other writers manage to finish a book? How do you? The first in my series, CUT SHORT, wasn't planned in advance - I simply ran with an idea. Before writing the second in the series, ROAD CLOSED, I did a detailed plan and went further with DEAD END which is coming out in 2011, and wrote a ten page synopsis before writing the first draft. I have done the same for the fourth in my series. Now, with all 64 chapters written, the first draft of the fourth book is complete. It just needs a little polishing before it goes off to my agent. I know what to do and could easily finish it in a couple of evenings. So what's the problem? It can't be described as 'writer's block' (whatever that is) because I know exactly what to do. But once it's finished - that's it. So what is stopping me? Why is it so hard to let go? After months researching and and enjoying writing my current MS I just don't want this to stop. If I wasn't writing a series I would never reach the end of this book... it's a struggle as it is, at least until an idea for what is going to happen to Geraldine Steel in the fifth book starts buzzing about in my brain...
Leigh Russell

Friday, 15 October 2010

A SERIAL KILLER NAMED MELVIN?




By Richard Jay Parker

I'm coming to the end of work on stand alone thriller 2 this week and as I start to hone the little details of the story it strikes me how much stories have to be convincing but not often based in absolute reality.

When choosing names for characters, for instance, it doesn't have much to do with what we'd encounter in real life. Our main character usually has a name that is the product of many different considerations - one that sits easily with the subject matter, that rolls easily round the tongue and brain and that doesn't scag the eye within the text.

If I was trying to create an evil, serial killing character I probably wouldn't call him Melvin. Although there was a necrophiliac serial killer with this name who was executed in 1961.

This isn't true of all protagonists, of course, but most books have to go against the grain of the odds in reality. For example, if you put a lot of people together there would be a very good chance that some of them would share the same first name. I've only ever read one book where this was the case and I found it absolutely exasperating.

As a writer I think we all choose interesting names and places that are not only good on the eye and echo agreeably in the mind but that all slot together in the reality we've created for our story.

It's a personal consideration and I think it's intriguing to anlayse why one name will fit within our work and another one won't. Only we can judge it.

At this point of editing I'm changing some places, fictional organisations, clothing descriptions and even colours. None of them contradict what I'd find outside my own front door and often I can't identify why I feel they don't work. I only know that they grate within the story.

There's no right or wrong - just a gut instinct that something isn't quite right.

So now I'm back to it. Will I finish today? No way, Jose. Or should that be 'No way, Pedro?'



More about Richard's work at: http://www.richardjayparker.com/








Tuesday, 12 October 2010

We Die Alone


by Matt Lynn


One of the pleasures of writing for a living is that you come across all kinds of unexpected stuff. I’ve been getting stuck into the writing of ‘Ice Force’, the forth book in the Death Force series. As you might guess from the title, its set in the Arctic. To get my mind into the right place, I’ve been reading as much polar stuff as I get my hands on.
Most of it is exploration stories, and its useful for the atmosphere, and survival techniques. But not much has been written about Arctic warfare. Eventually, I stumbled across a book called ‘We Die Alone’, which was written in the early 1950s by David Howarth. It tells the story of Jan Baalstrud, a fairly ordinary Norwegian guy during the Second World War. He signs up with the British Army, and is sent on a commando mission into the far north of Norway. It goes terribly wrong from the start, the rest of his unit is killed, and he has to trek a massive distance chased by Nazis to escape.
The brilliance of the book is in its descriptions of Arctic warfare, and the endurance and fortitude of its hero. And it reminds you of what an extraordinary conflict WWII was, and how many ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary events.
The scene where Jan saws off his toes with a bread knife and a bottle of brandy to prevent them getting frostbite is memorable.
It’s now been reissued, with a forward by Andy McNab – and highly recommended.

New York Journal of Books

Check out the new look New York Journal of Books on
http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/road-closed

"Road Closed is the second crime novel by Leigh Russell, featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. We were first introduced to Steel in the gritty and totally addictive debut novel, Cut Short, and once again Russell is in top form with this new crime thriller...
Like all good crime and thriller writers, Russell gives us just enough morsels of information in each page-turning chapter to whet our appetites for the bigger banquet at the end of the book. Road Closed is a gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end with its refreshingly compelling and original narrative. The rapidly building fan base of Russell and Steel will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the next installment, tentatively titled Dead End..."


Leigh Russell

Friday, 8 October 2010

ANYONE SEEN MY BEAST?




By Richard Jay Parker



The rabid beast has been loose again. You know the animal – the one who takes large bites out of mornings, afternoons and evenings when you’re at the keyboard.



It’s been my unwanted guest since I was a teenager. Every time I move home I can’t leave it behind.



It’s lying in the corner at the moment looking sated. It should – it’s just eaten most of my morning. I never see it feed. One moment I’m looking at the clock in daylight and anticipating how much work I’m going to get done. The next moment a huge chunk of the day has been gobbled up and the cursor hasn’t made it anywhere near the page number I wanted it to.



I’m looking at it now and it’s just scratching itself. When I look away to my screen though…



It seems to get extra hungry during rewriting. Polishing paragraphs is like ringing one of Pavlov’s bells. It ran off with a whole week once but its ribs were still rattling on Monday.



Currently its menu comprises of:



Starters



Twitter



Main Course



My Manuscript



Dessert



Catching Up With Emails



Funnily enough, when I want it to feed, the beast is nowhere to be seen. When I have a glut of time and I’m waiting for the phone to ring about the project I’ve been working on it immediately loses its appetite and scavenges elsewhere.



But it really chows down, really gets its snout in the trough when I’m writing.



Doesn’t matter how its furtive feeding disgusts me, however. I hope I never slay it.


More info about Richard and his work at:

www.richardjayparker.com










Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Judging A Book By Its Cover...


by Matt Lynn

One of the questions writers get asked is how much they say they have over their covers. To which the simple answer is: About as much say as we do over the weather.

My experience is that publishers send you the cover, and then whilst theoretically you could throw a tantrum and say you didn’t like it, that probably wouldn’t be a very welcome response.

Fortunately, I’ve never been in a position where I haven’t like a cover. I’ve just received the jacket for ‘Shadow Force’ and I think it’s fantastic: exciting, direct, in keeping with the previous two books in the series, but different enough to mark out its own space. (Then again, when a book is about mercenaries and pirates, it’s quite hard not to come up with a decent jacket).

And, of course, authors shouldn’t assume they know what is the best cover for their book. The editor and the illustrator will have their own take on it, and how it fits into the market, who it is going to appeal to, and how it will stand out from the rest of the books on the market.

That said, it would be awful to see a cover you really didn’t like on your book. After all, it is the most obvious statement about your work.

Friday, 1 October 2010

SHOOT THE POSTMAN




By Richard Jay Parker


There are a couple of theories about the title of James M Cain’s crime novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. One is that it referred to the true case of Ruth Snyder who conspired to murder her husband and asked the postman to ring twice if he was delivering the insurance documents she’d altered.

The other story - and the one I prefer - is that Cain dreaded the arrival of the postman and knew that if he rang twice he would have a weighty parcel ie his manuscript returned from another publisher.

The novel, of course, has nothing to do with a postman so I like the idea that this non sequitur of a title came from the writer’s frustration at trying to get his work published.

It’s a harsh reality for writers – that something you spend months working on and losing sleep over can be dismissed with a standard letter or a phone call. In fact, nowadays, it can be dismissed even quicker. Emails are a great way of speeding up the communication process but can sometimes seem even more impersonal.

But the waiting and then the casual cold shoulder is something every writer has to come to terms with. Purgatory by the phone is something every writer, however successful, has to experience.

Is the phone still working? Has it been left off the hook?

But it’s good to get things into perspective by considering how many writers out there are going through the same torment. And some of that work is probably jostling for position on the same desk as yours.

I used to submit scripts to TV and got very frustrated with the rate of turnaround. Then I worked as a script editor and got a revealing perspective on just how much time there is in a day to read. The volume of submissions was staggering and although I always tried to give personal feedback to everyone who submitted, it was sometimes impossible.

Agents are very busy people and reading new manuscripts only accounts for a very small percentage of their time. Most of them need a 36 hour day to service the clients they already have and sometimes only have an hour or two in the week to catch up on reading. Here’s an interesting article from the Andrew Lownie Agency about the average week for an agent. I recommend reading some of the other articles on the site re submissions as well.


As promised, here’s the interesting link for writers seeking agents that explains how to compose a cogent query letter. Always remember to read the specific guidelines of each agency though. Best of luck and hope these provide an insight while you're waiting for the postman.


Happy weekend.


More info about Richard's work at: http://www.richardjayparker.com/


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Putting Voices To Characters

by Matt Lynn

I got a call out of the blue the other day from an actor called Paul Panting. He was about to start recording an audio version of Fire Force, and he wanted to have a chat about accents, as well as checking the pronunciation of some of the military hardware.
As anyone who has read either ‘Death Force’ or ‘Fire Force’ will know, there is a big group of character in the stories, and they all come from quite different places. Steve is South London, working class. Ollie is a public schoolboy. Dan is an Australian, Maksim a Russian, Chris a South African, and so on.
We were discussing what kind of voices to give the different men, and how far too push it. In the books, I don’t really give them different accents all the time, in the sense that, Chris, for example doesn’t talk about ‘Seth Eefrica’. That’s partly because I’m not very good at writing accents, but also because it could turn into an accent fest, and get very silly and distracting. I prefer to let their characters comes through by the type of things they say, and how they react to situations, rather than by giving them funny voices.
Paul and I agreed that that was the way to do it in the audio version as well – even if it meant he didn’t get a chance to show off all those accents he learned in acting school.
But it also struck me that just hearing the audio book – which I’m really looking forward to – is going to change my perception of the characters. I already hear Steve and Ollie’s voice in my head when I’m writing them, but of course an actor’s interpretation will be slightly different to mine. It will be fascinating, but also a bit strange to hear a different take on all the guys in the unit. It may even change the way I think about them.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Curzon Group at Havant Festival 2nd October

Bestselling authors and members of The Curzon Group, Tom Cain, Matt Lynn and Leigh Russell are looking forward to their panel at HAVANT LITERARY FESTIVAL at 2pm on Saturday 2nd October. This will be held at The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre in East Street Havant. Tickets can be booked online http://www.thespring.co.uk/index.php/events/19-literary-festival/406-the-curzon-group-matt-lyn-leigh-russell-a-tom-cain
or from the Box Office 023 9247 2700.

Friday, 24 September 2010

How Old Should Someone Be Before You Can Kill Them?


By Richard Jay Parker


This was one of the questions that constituted the casual conversation over dainty sandwiches and tea in the green room at The Reading Festival of Crime Writing. A number of authors had gathered there as they waited to do their various talks and anybody who had walked in after the preamble would have been shocked to hear about the body count generated by the group of outwardly respectable people gathered there.


There was a consensus about teenagers. You could off them by the truckload and nobody bats an eyelid. Younger than that and you might have some problems. Strangling cats was a definite no no. Author X (I'm protecting their identity) had received serious flak for this.


What about poison? Had anybody posioned anybody? There was a momentary racking of brains before misty nostalgia clouded some of the eyes there and they nodded gleefully that they had.


I've done a few festivals this year but I have to say that Reading had every element right. The Town Hall was a great venue and it was impeccably organised. More importantly they had some great authors there and the whole atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. They're doing it again next year so I recommend it to fans of crime as well as aspiring authors everywhere.


I was on a panel with Elizabeth Corley and Zoe Sharp. We had a great audience and the hour we had to discuss thrillers as well as share our own experiences trying to get published felt like it was over in five minutes.


We were all agreed - it's getting easier to submit material to agents. Many of them will accept email submissions now rather than writers having to go to the expense of printing off sample chapters. This does, of course, mean that the volume of submissions will increase because it can all be done with a click of a mouse. Good work does get picked up though and even though we all had tales of frustration to share we hope it encouraged many of the ambitious crime writers there - perseverance pays off.


Zoe had the address of a great website dedicated to locating the right agent. I'll try and include it in an update to this blog or post it next Friday.


Zoe's partner Andy was there to take some pics and these are now being used in a caption competition put together by Chiara Priorelli, our publicity co-odinator at Allison & Busby. Click HERE and have a go. There's a copy of THIRD STRIKE by Zoe Sharp, INNOCENT BLOOD By Elizabeth Corley and my own book STOP ME to win.


Happy, creative weekend.


More info about Richard and his novel at http://www.richardjayparker.com/



Friday, 17 September 2010

When Can I Call Myself A Writer?




By Richard Jay Parker


I was speaking to a fellow writer this week - although she wouldn't call herself that. She feels that because she isn't published, she isn't a writer. A lot of writers have this attitude. If you feel inside yourself that you are a writer then you are. It's often other people's perception of you that causes the problems.


Every writer goes through periods when their material isn't getting out there. It doesn't mean they're suddenly not a writer.


Before your first piece of work gets picked up (unless you write purely for pleasure) it's a lot harder. Still doesn't mean you're not a writer though. Obviously the ultimate goal is to have your work published or your script shot. To you it legitamises all the hard work and is something tangible, something that you can point at.


Again this is based on what other people's definition of a writer is though. If you're at a party and you tell someone you're a writer the very next question is always 'What have you written? Anything I'd know?' It's a strange assumption - that all writers are involved in high profile, mainstream projects. Tell them you're still perfecting your craft and they're not interested. To them it's as if you've claimed to be a doctor when you're still at medical school.


Ask them what they do. You're an architect? Any famous buildings that I've been in? When are you going to design something I've heard of?


I think the truth of the matter is that a lot of people have considered being writers. Some dabble in it before giving up. It can often be an unrewarding and disheartening process so I certainly can't blame them for that. So when you say you're a writer it's almost an affront to some.


I know writers who have had plenty of work published but don't feel like they're writers because they don't do it full time. It's human nature to achieve something and immediately want the next thing. It's good for our development. Self belief is the key though and, although they might mean nothing to people at a party, try to enjoy every one of those small victories - a rejection letter that isn't a standard one and has some encouraging remarks, interest from an agent that didn't go as far as you wanted it but at least made you feel that your last project took you another rung up the ladder. They're a part of every 'successful' writer's journey.


What matters is that you believe you're making progress - however excruciatingly slow it seems.


If you've just received one of those standard rejection letters and you still find yourself sitting down at your keyboard to write something else because you just have to - then you're a writer. Don't let anyone tell you any different.



Info about Richard's novel and work at: http://www.richardjayparker.com/




READING FESTIVAL OF CRIME WRITING


This Sunday (19th) at 3.00 - 4.00 pm Elizabeth Corley, Zoe Sharp and Richard Jay Parker
will be appearing on a thriller panel in The Waterhouse Room, Reading Museum & Town Hall as part of Reading Festival Of Crime Writing. Books to be signed afterwards. Admission is free but you'll need a festival ticket. Hope to see you there.


Virtual Programme HERE


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Books and Booker

‘I know it sounds pompous,’ I often hear myself say, ‘but I think writers have a duty to at least try to write well.’
Why do I feel I have to apologise for holding that view? If it implies criticism of some of my fellow writers, where does the blame lie?
Just the other day my dentist apologised for extracting the wrong tooth. ‘Sorry’, he said as he wiped my blood from his grubby fingers, ‘I’ve done a shocking job for you. Now I must be off, I’m up for an award as Dentist of the Year.’
Once my gums had stopped bleeding I arranged to meet some friends for supper. I ordered fish. It arrived promptly, quite well cooked on the outside and only slightly frozen in the middle. When I tried to return my dish I learned that the chef was no longer on the premises. ‘He had to dash,’ the waiter explained. ‘He’s off to hear if he’s won Chef of the Year.’
‘The food must be good,’ one of my friends said. ‘The chef’s up for an award!’ The others were too busy chewing to speak.
‘Some of the seasoning could do with severe cutting,’ I muttered. ‘Didn’t the chef taste this before serving it up?’ The only response was the sound of someone choking.

Sir Andrew Motion commented recently that some of the books put forward for the Booker Prize were ‘pretty shocking’ and ‘quite shockingly in want of a decent edit.’ Does the author take no responsibility for the quality of the writing?
My own books have been described as ‘well-written’ (The Times, Marcel Berlins) ‘refreshingly compelling and original’ (The New York Journal of Books, Michael Lipkin) ‘intelligently written’ (Bookersatz, Helen M Hunt) ‘well-written’ (Eurocrime, Amanda Gillies) ‘accomplished’ (Watford Observer, Melanie Dakin). I could go on.

So why do books like mine, well-written though they are, never appear on a long list for a literary prize? Because my books are also described – to quote just a few of many similar reviews - as ‘gritty and addictive… gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end ..’ (New York Journal of Books, Sam Millar) ‘a gritty page-turner from the start’ (Star magazine,) ‘tense… fast-paced twisty narrative’ (US Publishers Weekly starred review)

Yes – well-written they may be, but I write crime fiction.
Sorry about the door slamming. That was just my credibility as a writer leaving the room.

Leigh Russell
CUT SHORT (2009) ROAD CLOSED (2010) DEAD END (2011)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES

by Matt Lynn

One of my favourite themes is how thriller writers aren’t keeping up with the times. Britain and the US have been involved in two major and very nasty wars in the last decade, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you wouldn’t guess it from reading the thrillers on the shelves at your local WH Smith. The y are all old-style Cold War spy thrillers, stuff about hidden scrolls, serial killers, or lawyers. There is almost nothing about the wars we are fighting now.

There is a fascinating piece related to that in the New York Times. It points out that the most vibrant story-telling about contemporary warfare is in the video game industry, not in the thriller industry. Games like Medal of Honour and Call of Duty are far more relevant to what is happening in the world today than just about any book.

I’m trying to address that with my ‘Death Force’ series, which are bang up to date. But not enough writers are taking up that challenge. I suspect that is partly the fault of the publishers, who should be looking for more contemporary material. But it also because writers have lost the desire to be relevant. The video game already poses a big challenge for writers. In many ways it is a more interesting narrative form. But surely it is silly to leave the field completely top gaming, rather than the novel

Friday, 10 September 2010

Done it again!

Quick bit of news to share - ROAD CLOSED is being reprinted. Seems to be doing as well as CUT SHORT which sold out 3 times in a year. Leigh Russell

Martyrs To Writing



By Richard Jay Parker


Thanks to Simon Dawson and Mel Sharratt for providing the inspiration for this week's blog. They left some comments on the back of my last blog that got me thinking about a group of people who are the unsung heroes of the writing world - our partners.

Whether you're married, cohabiting or just sharing a living space with others, the miasma from the writing process is frequently difficult to deal with. How many sit across from us at meal times looking at our glassy stares because, even though we've been persuaded to turn off our computer, we're still immersed in our work.

I always experience an anticlimax when I finish work for the day because I've never written as much as I want. What jolly company I must be. Then there's the making of copious notes at all hours, on weekends, when we should be enjoying quality time and even on holidays.

Then there's those highs and (mostly) lows that our partners and friends have to endure with us. A morsel of good news - an email or a telephone call - transforms our mood and makes it all seem worth it. 'I'm taking this with a pinch of salt.' 'I'm not getting excited.' But of course we don't and we do.

They don't know what the hell we're doing most of the time. Our enthusiasm stems from something that's hidden in our heads for the majority of a project. Their support is an act of blind faith - or they're just humouring us. Whatever the case, the creative process is difficult for a writer but equally as frustrating to watch.

Mel suggested a support group for writers' partners but I'm not so sure. Do we really want to be talked about - our habits dissected? No - let the bi-products of our writing remain shrouded in mystery. If writer idiosyncrasies became public knowledge we'd never persuade anyone to live with us.

So - a 21 gun salute for the partners of grouchy, introspective, partially insane writers. We couldn't do it without you. Now, I'm just going up to the office for an hour. Just an hour.



ESTRANGED

Some time ago I wrote a horror short for British horror stalwart, David McGillivray. He wrote a couple of horror movie classics that bridged the gap between Hammer and the Video nasties era in the UK. Due to my previous writing life I'm no stranger to TV crews and shooting schedules but I did enjoy spending some time on location when it was being shot. It was called SLEEP TIGHT and many of the technicians on the set had impressive movie CVs having worked on the original Star Wars trilogy, The Doctor Phibes movies and, more importantly, Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

SLEEP TIGHT is still languishing in post production but while the finishing touches are being added I wrote a quickie script for David which was shot a couple of months ago. The challenge was to encapsulate a horror movie in one minute.


You can see it HERE - One caveat though - it's not for the faint-hearted.


More about Richard's novel and work at http://www.richardjayparker.com/


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Fact vs Fiction...


by Matt Lynn

I haven’t been writing very much on this blog, largely because I’ve been rattling out a quick book on the Greek crisis for Wiley. The book was written at huge speed – a couple of months – and will be out in November. That was exhilarating in itself. As most of us know, the process of writing can be pretty leisurely. It takes a long time to write a book, and just as long for the publisher to bring it out. This one will be about five months total from Wiley getting in touch about the idea to the book hitting the shelves.


For me, it was also a chance to reflect on the difference between writing fact and fiction. I wrote a couple of business books much earlier in my career, but this was the first one I had done since I took up writing fiction.

It is a very different process. Obviously, the non-fiction book involves a lot more research. On the other hand, the story is just there. You collect the facts, marshal them into a coherent argument, then tell the story.

In fiction, you have to create every detail of the story yourself. You have to create the characters, and make them real. You need twists and denouements. It’s far harder work.

The funny thing is, most people looking at ‘Bust’ would assume it was a far more serious book than, say, ‘Fire Force’. But a book like ‘Fire Force’ is far more difficult to write.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Leave That Twitter Alone!




By Richard Jay Parker


I tweeted a comment yesterday about having to put a gun to my own head to get some writing done and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people. As a writer you have to be your own boss - a hard-nosed, humourless taskmaster that won't even give you the afternoon off when the sun's shining outside. One that most of us wouldn't like to have at our shoulder in an office environment. But at least you'll never have to worry about sexual harassment...unless you're really bored.


Nobody makes you write. Even if you have a deadline and bills to pay there's still nobody to watch over you when you're at the keyboard. There's a romantic image in movies I've seen with agent turning up at writer's home to massage shoulders and ego while they drag themselves to the desk but it doesn't have much to do with reality.


Fact is, unless you're an established best seller, you have to do a huge amount of solitary work to create an entity before it can involve others - readers, agent, publisher etc. Until then it's all down to your own faith and determination and nobody can crack the whip but you. It's all in your head for a large percentage of the time so you don't even have much to show yourself at the end of each day except for a few pages at a time.


Apparently a lot of people give up on writing their first novel around page 60. The initial enthusiasm has died, they're not even half way and all that stretches ahead is hard work. Who's there to make them finish?


With so many distractions, particularly for people who write at home, it's a small wonder any work gets finished.


Personally, I like to pinpoint a date on the calendar which I estimate to be the time I'll have a project finished. I'm always optimistic and have a secondary date which I know is probably more feasible but do everything I can to meet the first date. If I don't - it's always done by the second.


When you're tiring of trying to fill blank pages I also think it's a good idea to take a break and read a couple of chapters of a book that inspired you. It reminds you why the hell you're doing it in the first place. You can lose sight of that sometimes.


Any writers want to share how they stay on course? Or would that be another distraction?


Watch out - the boss is back from lunch the same time as me. He really doesn't trust me.