63. How I chose my star-spangled editor for my latest novel Spark Out

VERY rarely do I look at, let alone read, direct messages on Twitter. Normally they are from people imploring you to watch their “hilarious” YouTube channel, employ them as a life coach or join their network on LinkedIN*.

Anyway, I must have been going through a nasty case of Writers Block or something because one morning I found myself wading through this list of wannabes and never-was’ers.

Then to my pleasant surprise I came across Night Owl Freelance, offering editorial services at a time I was mulling over who to pick as editor for my second novel, Spark Out.

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Perhaps it was fate but I decided to investigate further. Night Owl is a small operation run by the very talented Vanessa Gonzales, and one look at her personal website persuaded me she would at least be worth an inquiry.

For a start, I don’t imagine there is any situation that would phase her – her back story including such diverse life experiences as having been a mormon and a porn shop worker. Currently she travels around the US in a motor home with her husband, seeking out adventure along the way.

The line that resonated most with me in her bio was ‘I want to fall in love with characters I sympathise with, want to sleep with, and want to punch – in a really great story, those last two are the same’.

One thing a writer needs is an editor who has empathy with their main characters, and I immediately thought the relationship would work. I have spent hundreds of pounds and hours of anxiety waiting on people to “critique” my work, only to find that for the large part they have missed the gist or failed to “get” the point.

After some correspondence between us and a sample “edit”, I felt Vanessa understood where I was coming from, even if I did have to include a short glossary of Cockney Rhyming Slang to help her out with some of the dialogue.

I decided to take the plunge and asked her to do a developmental edit, as my wife Liz – a qualified proofreader as I have mentioned before – would sort out the line editing.

Within a month Vanessa had provided me with a comprehensive 13-page analysis of my work, covering every detail of plot and character. Taking her views on board I did a few tweaks here and there, adding to some chapters and removing stuff from others and now I am on the last leg. Liz is at the moment proofreading my latest draft and I’ve sent out a few copies on word documents to chosen BETA readers, though I am looking for more before I set a launch date of sometime this summer.

If anyone is interested please comment on this blog…

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I’m looking forward to including a big thank you to Vanessa in the credits. My decision to choose her for the edit would have certainly shocked some of my bowler-hat wearing, umbrella-toting colleagues over this side of the pond, but I’m happy I took the plunge. She has been a good sounding board – even helping me adapt my previous title from Headers to Spark Out.

Can’t wait for the launch…

(* EDITOR’S NOTE: I tried LinkedIn once and couldn’t see the point. What made it even more annoying was the fact it was so bloody hard to Link Out!)

60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.

HEADERS SAMPLE FOR BLOG

58. Dublin Writers’ Conference was Simply Brexcellent

 

IT was the morning after Brexit and in a state of shock I was making my exit from Britain.

Boarding the flight to Dublin, I wasn’t sure exactly how my hosts would react to the shock news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

First impressions weren’t favourable. “I’m not sure where I should go now,” I explained to the man at Dublin Passport Control.

“Well, yous got to be joining that big long queue over there, fella,” he said, pointing to the non-EU arrivals. He couldn’t keep a straight face for long, though. “I’m kidding you. Come on through.”

I jumped in the taxi and started a conversation with the driver about the other big European issue of the day: Euro 2016. “You did well beating Italy,” I said. “If you beat France then you might meet us English in the quarter-finals.”

“Don’t know about that,” he said. “I’m from Romania. We got knocked out in the group stages. I’ve been here for 13 years. Came over to do some building work and never left.”

Nice bloke. Reasonable fare. And I was dropped off at the Castle Hotel in the City Centre which was the perfect base for the weekend I had planned. I was attending my first official 3-day Dublin Writers’ Conference with Books Go Social.

I joined this writers group shortly after my book came out, mainly because they seemed to have an incredible social media reach and many fellow Indie Authors were on their books.

The brainchild of Laurence O’Bryan, an Irishman who was disillusioned by the whole traditional publishing “monopoly”, it has been going from strength to strength since the eBook revolution and Amazon’s decision to take the plunge and back the Indie Author scene.

For me, the jury was still out on BGS, though. I can’t put a single extra sale down to the tweets that have been put out on my behalf.

This was maybe the acid test. The Annual Conference. And if I had any doubts about joining the group they were simply blown away by what, for me, was the highlight of the year.

The self-publishing professionals who attended were an absolute mine of information, whether you wanted to learn about the art of writing itself, formatting, marketing, getting your novel into book shops or even turning it into a Hollywood blockbuster.

ken

KEN AITCHITY talks to the writers about the current state of storytelling

That was where Ken Aitchity came in. Once dubbed “The Story Merchant”, Ken is actually based in Hollywood and has produced film and TV shows, written books, lectured on writing and guided fellow authors. Who could fail to be impressed by a person whose CV reads like an A-Z of the creative arts.

Ken wasn’t alone though. Among others there was Ben Galley, an author of Dark Fantasy, started life in Croydon as a worker in a small food outlet dreaming of doing something better with his life. When he discovered self-publishing was no longer frowned upon he got in on the ground floor and has now produced 10 novels including an epic fantasy called the Emanska series.

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THAT’S ME on the far left: Not asleep, just listening intently (honest!)

Ben has started a shelf-help consultancy designed to assist budding authors and his particular strength is marketing. For those like me who struggle with this aspect his talk about reader funnels was fascinating and his website is well worth a look.

Jessica Bell, too, is a legend in self-publishing. She does virtually everything herself including formatting, cover design and self-editing, while somehow finding time at home in Greece to pursue a singer/songwriting career as well.

And these were just the people I met on the first day: There was a revolving door of professionals throughout the weekend, each with their own unique take on the art of writing and self-publishing.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect is meeting fellow writers and discussing their individual journeys, reinforcing the fact you are not alone. On Friday night volunteers had a chance to read from their own work and critique each other with expert feedback from Jessica and Ben.

Through it all Laurence and his team were extremely helpful and their organisation couldn’t be faulted, with events switching between the famous Gresham Hotel and the Irish Writers’ Centre.

The Books Go Social Dublin Writers Conference was well worth the investment. I would recommend it to anyone who has been in two minds about whether to take the plunge.

Britain may have voted to split from the EU, but it’s comforting to know the writers’ community goes from strength to strength around the world.

55. The proof is in the pdudding

Spot the deliberate mistake in the heading?

As a career journalist and a newspaper sub-editor since the mid-80s these things have become second nature to me.

That’s probably why the one thing that is guaranteed to put me off reading a book – and this can happen in traditionally published novels, too, though mainly I am talking about indies – is when I find loads of grammatical or silly literal mistakes in it.

A few people have encouraged me to read their books in the past and I have found myself grimacing and swearing under my breath at the silly mistakes that have been allowed to slip through the net.

In one particular book the protagonists’ names kept changing or the wrong person was credited with speaking a line not meant for them.

The thing is that these things are so easily avoidable. The more people who read your work before you sign off on it, the better.

An editor is important to help the book flow and make sure you don’t get bogged down in too many details, but if you feel they are suggesting changes that you consider detrimental to your story you can always over-rule them. Beta readers, too, particularly those who agree to read your work but don’t particularly have a close relationship with you, can give really helpful advice.

A spelling mistake or glaring punctuation error is not a matter for discussion, though, which is why a professional proofreader is so important.

My wife Liz has just passed a proofreading course and the fact she is a production journalist with years of experience means she already has a head start. She proofed my book, her father’s and has recently taken on some independent work. Why not check out her website and make an inquiry? Her fees are very reasonable but if not Liz, make sure you seek out the services of a professional in the field.

Meandandrew

Plug over. The reason I am writing this is that last night after a busy shift in the day job we got talking about a friend who set up a magazine. It is all going quite well but he is tearing his hair out over some of the silly errors that creep into it. His partner is an enthusiastic techie who can handle all the layout and print issues, but lets silly mistakes slip through the net through carelessness and the desire to do things quickly, failing to realise irreparable harm is being done to the overall product.

I’ve just found this article on a website which gives plenty of stats about why people are likely to stop reading books and most of them can directly or indirectly be put down to the editing and proofreading process. Check it out here