68. DUBLIN SPARK LIT THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER FOR MY SECOND NOVEL

LISTEN to any Dublin taxi driver and they’ll tell you that you can’t fling a Bodhran tipper* out of the window without hitting a writer.

Sorry, but I’ve lapsed into gaelic since spending three days in the fair city to launch my difficult second novel Spark Out. And it’s certainly true to say that the only people I saw who weren’t writers during my brief but highly enjoyable stay were those kind people who served me their finest beers, spirits and other sustenance to help me survive the ordeal.

This was the second time I had been to this wonderful event run by the book promotion service, Books Go Social. I had asked Laurence O’Bryan (pictured below) – the brains behind the company – if he might be able to fit my book launch into his jam-packed schedule. Even though he had Hollywood producers and best-selling authors to accommodate, he was delighted to oblige, and kindly filmed the event as well.

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BooksGoSocial logoHaving not ventured out of the famous Gresham Hotel last year, I pledged that I would see a bit more of the famed Dublin nightlife this time around. The trouble is that once you become embedded with a group of writers, even the most introverted is itching to tell you of their latest project or their creative journey.

As a result I became part of the fixtures and fittings of the Academy Plaza on this occasion, spending the days enjoying lectures on every aspect of my craft, from first sentence to organising book launches, and nights ensconced in the bar, swapping tales with fabulously entertaining company.

wendyh     There were too many good speakers to list but I would just like to make quick mention of Scottish dynamo and crime writer Wendy H Jones (right). Having lived a full and varied life before beginning a “life of “crime” she drew on her experience as a nurse to inform us: “I can assure you that no one has EVER died of embarrassment.” Wendy was encouraging us to get out and take risks, to ask local book stores and other enterprises to stock and sell our books, or allow us to perform book signings and launches.

A testament to her success was when she visited her local bank branch near Dundee and was not only invited to do a book signing but was then approached by head office to do an entire tour of Scotland’s banks. Brilliant work!

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As for myself, despite having to compete with the clinking of cutlery and what seemed like a demolition derby going on in the nearby kitchen, I think my speech went down well.

I was pleased with the banner that I had bought on eBay and had delivered straight to the venue without actually seeing (I feared there might be an awful spelling mistake in it or something, but luckily that wasn’t the case). I was also delighted to be able to do a short reading from the new book and give out three as prizes to those people who could come up with a tale about their favourite fictional baddie.

To finish off I did a reading from the novel which you can see here…

At the end of it all I was feeling revved up, the adrenaline flowing… there was nothing for it than to retire to the bar again and mingle with the glittering company.

* A Bodhran tipper is the stick with which you beat an Irish Bodhran, or drum.

  • Spark Out is available in paperback this Saturday (July 1) and can be obtained through Amazon or ordered through most good bookstores. It will be available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited from July 10. 

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!)

62. Spark Out: Cover reveal

THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I certainly hope you can in my case. In my humble opinion, my cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has excelled herself with Spark Out, the second book in my Boxer Boys series.
Jane, one of the members of the prolific author-collective Triskele Books, has a simple but effective way of working with authors and her covers can rightfully take their place alongside the very best on the virtual bookstand (or, indeed, in book shops if you are lucky to find anyone prepared to stock your book… hint, hint Waterstones, WH Smiths and Foyle’s).
It’s all about genre, really. Jane asks you what type of book you have written and invites you to submit covers you like in that genre. Once you have provided some examples and explained the kind of imagery best fits with your story, she sources them and sends you a variety to choose from. Once you have done that she then gets to work.
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Crossing the Whitewash was my first book and because Spark Out is part of a series Jane wanted to stick to the overall style. As you will see the name is very similar as is the idea of taking a silhouette image, in this case a man and a boy, and adding a background significant to the story. For Crossing the Whitewash we used the Millennium Stadium, for Spark Out it’s the QE2, which carried 3,000 troops to war in the Falklands back in 1982.
For me, the image of a soldier’s eyes, facepainted with camouflage and the Union Jack, was striking, and we used it above the title in the same way we used the knife in the first book.
So that’s it. I hope you like it.
The book has just come back from my American Editor, more of which later, and is now with my wife Liz, a qualified proofreader. I will soon be selecting Beta Readers to get a free copy of the book and give me their comments while hopefully posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads on launch day. If anyone is interested please let me know via the comments on here and I will get back in touch.

61. Tune in for a magical ride with Mystery Thriller Week

IT’S BEEN  a long time! Sorry about that but I really have been incredibly busy. Not only does the day job take up a lot of my time but I have also been working hard promoting my first novel Crossing The Whitewash over the Xmas period, while sending my second novel out for editing and starting a third as part of NaNoWriMo.

I just had to post this week to tell people about a wonderful new on-line project that I have become involved in.

Mystery Thriller Week is a group set up on Facebook for writers, bloggers, readers, reviewers and just about anyone interested in the genre to swap ideas, learn about a wide variety of books out there and discover new authors. It is all supposed to kick off from February 12, but some people have started the ball rolling early.

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Jennifer S. Alderson

There are a lot of us all shouting for attention, so I am delighted that my book is one of the 15 that has been included in Jennifer S Alderson’s blog about Mystery thrillers based outside the US.

As readers will know Crossing The Whitewash switches from humdrum life on a busy inner-city housing estate to the wide-open spaces of the Welsh Valleys, so just about perfect for Jennifer’s subject matter.

Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads again and am delighted to say that I seem to have hit just the right tone with the current one. During December I sold over 100 copies of Crossing and this month I have sold nearly 50 in the four days so far. On one particular day I peaked at 20 copies, and realised that I was also advertising on Instagram. It may have been a fluke because there is no way of knowing who saw what before going onto KDP and taking the plunge.

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Much of it is down to targeting which I have now honed, directing the ads at people in the over-45 age group who are fans of thriller writers like Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin and Martina Cole.

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When I broke into the top 5,000 sellers on KDP I was delighted, particularly with my novel appearing in the top 20 of hard-boiled mysteries alongside household names like Stuart MacBride, Phillip Kerr and Gordon Ferris. It’s the perfect boost with the new book, a prequel, due out in February or March.

35. Raining on my parade

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MY first-ever book signing became a bit of a damp squib – or squid as some writers would have us believe.

No fault of the good people at Books & Pontyclun in the Welsh valleys, the Indie shop where the event took place. It’s just that at 11am, just as the signing was due to start, the heavens’ opened and South Wales was drowned under a flood of Noah-like proportions.

To be honest, if I hadn’t have been there myself I don’t think I would have ventured out of the door.

Why am I so surprised? From my experience of that area of the country, the Arc was probably manufactured in Cardiff Bay.

Still, David Norrington and Daniel Parsons were fantastic company and gave me some great ideas as we talked Indie authors, books, marketing strategies and social media.

David is a leading light in his own publishing company, Onion Custard, and at the moment one of their writers is making plenty of waves (appropriate really, with water lapping at the door as we discussed her success).

As he contemplated whether we would need to employ sandbags, David told me about MK Jones and her novel Three Times Removed, which has swept up the charts both here and abroad.

At one stage it reached No. 6 in Amazon’s Women’s Sleuth section with a story centring around a main protagonist who has to investigate her family tree and solve a mystery in the past in order to prevent disaster striking in the present day.

Apparently it has been flying off the virtual shelves in Australia, for instance, and David is trying to get to the bottom of his own mystery by establishing why the good people down under have taken it to their hearts.

David organises book signings, book launches, book fairs and book clubs. In fact,  mention books in any way and David’s ears will be burning.

He was pretty busy for most of the day but has agreed to make Crossing The Whitewash book of the month at some stage in the New Year, probably to coincide with my promotion on Nook, the eBook wing of American company Barnes and Noble, which is scheduled for February.

Daniel, meanwhile, not only helps run the shop and spends time editing for Onion Custard, he has to hold down another job working in a valleys nightclub while also trying to make his way as a writer.

He is a full-time advocate of the modern publishing era, marketing his “brand” to more than 70,000 twitter followers and using tools like Wattpad to promote his writing.

Daniel writes teen fantasy novels and his serialisation Necroville was recently rated as one of Wattpad’s top-10 zombie stories. It ranks at No. 133 for horror reads as I write, and has 16,900 people read it. To put my little Sci-Fi experiment in comparison, it’s had 72 reads.

As someone who can make head nor tail of Wattpad, I salute his endeavour and will definitely take another look. He assures me it as a useful tool for creating buzz around your writing.

In the final hour of the signing the rain did ease off somewhat and I am pleased to report I made three sales on the day. This Indie author lark is a lot of hard work for little reward at times, but the satisfaction of seeing your work in print and getting encouraging comments from those who read it makes it worthwhile.

In the New Year my plan is to come up with a couple of Novellas featuring some of the less established characters in Crossing The Whitewash and to put out the novel itself on audio.

Amazon already have a tool – ACX – which will pair you with a narrator and an editor. I understand you can get some gift “codes” enabling you to give away the book free to some people, part of my long-term plan for world fiction domination.