Manchester trip, knoworramean?

Has it really been a month since I last posted? Yes it has. Really? Yep. I don't lie (unless it is to an official). Dun't time fly, our kid?

Well, it has been busy: new book, talks, radio and all. I'll do a post about that stuff soon enough.

As I approached the final edits for Cold Fusion 2000 I decided that a trip to Manchester, where the novel is set, would be useful. I could do some fact checking and extra scene description. And so I spent 1st-4th December back in the city in which I was born. I'd left in 1998, just prior to the start of the story in Cold Fusion 2000. Set out into the world to seek my fame and fortune.

Caught the wrong train and got stuck in Aberystwyth. C'est la vie.


All women like cats

I'm too busy editing to do a proper blog post this week. Furious typing has led to a pall of smoke separating me from my screen. My fingers are burning, man! Let me just dip them in this glass of water... [Hissss.] Excellent, cooled down now. Talking of hisses, I'll post an extract from the novel I'm working on. With some luck and lots of water it should be available in December, and I'll hopefully give some talks once it is launched, details will appear here. On with the show. Alex is the novel's protagonist and has just split up with his girlfriend. Then he stayed in the pub, drank a lot of beer and decided it could only be a good idea to try and win her back the same day. What could go wrong with any plan that you come up with when inebriated? Nothing, I say to you sir; absolutely nothing at all.


Speech recognition software and writing

Speech recognition software automatically transcribes digital text from spoken voice, with over 90% accuracy in ideal conditions. It can save time typing, and also helps to cut back on repetitive motions, lowering the risk of RSI or easing it if you have it already. Once trained to your voice the software is much faster than typing, even when you consider the time spent making corrections (many of which can be done on the fly using voice input, which further trains the software and improves its accuracy in the future).

There are two main scenarios in which I've used it:

  1. Sat at my PC, using a microphone to open and close programs, type in text etc. I can then sit there and 'write' just by speaking. Not only is it quicker, but it taps into a different type of creativity - by speaking and letting it flow I find that I am applying less conscious control than when I write normally, a chance to let surprising word combinations come out. I can also sit back, eyes closed, picture the scene and talk away, describing what I see and translating the imaginary scenes into spoken words.
  2. I've written about 'snippets'* before. These are files on my PC that store fragmented sensations, ideas, word plays, descriptions and so on. Often these occur to me on the move. In some cases I jot them in a notebook to type up later, but when walking along that's not convenient, so instead I record the thoughts as audio files on my smartphone. Then when I get home I have to type them up (requiring multiple passes, since the speaking is faster than my typing!). Using audio transcription software to turn them into text documents is much quicker.

A new version of Turner for Halloween!

The new cover

A few months ago I started to work with Derek Murphy at Creativindie on a new cover for Turner to replace my amateur image editing skills! The first set of drafts can be found here; the final version discarded many of those ideas, great as they were, and only kept the cracked font that appeared in some of them. After I had found some possible images for the main characters of Chris and Lord John, Derek was able to come up with further designs, as shown here. That post includes my comments too, which led to these revisions from Derek:

I liked all of those ideas, but it was a really interesting process to narrow down all the possibilities. In the end I asked for a few drafts from which I would make my final decision, namely:


Turner - FAQs

Over time I've been asked various questions about Turner. The build up to Halloween seems like a good time to gather many of these together as a set of Frequently Asked Questions. Let's carve that pumpkin up and see what's inside. (Warning: spoilers abound!) The information below might be useful if you're considering the discussion questions at the end of the novel.

What's the novel about?
See the blurb here.

Why is the novel called Turner? And how does the lighthouse tie in to that?
Read all about it.


Still working on a new cover

As I said recently, Turner will get a new cover: hopefully in time for Halloween! The latest variants we've been looking at are shown above. We are going back to the central lighthouse idea, but this time between the 'two turners'.

I'll put an edited version of my thoughts below.


The Humble E-book Bundle

Oh no, broken my own rule - I said I was only going to do posts about Turner this month! However, an interesting news item came up, a deal with 11 days left, so I couldn't miss this.

I've bought games from the lovely Humble Bundle people in the past. Their latest promotion is a first - a collection of e-books (not eBooks!) The books are DRM-free and great value, I recommend going and having a look!

Work on a new cover

I'm currently working with Derek Murphy of Creativindie to come up with a new book cover for Turner. It's fun trying out different draft designs before starting to settle on a particular theme and set of images. I may make a few changes to the text of Turner as well to celebrate the new look once it is finished.

The inspiration for Turner

Since it is Halloween at the end of this month I'll be going back to Turner for each blog post. Horror! Murderers! Evil! Chainsaws! Madness! Science! Guns! Nudity! A cute dog! The novel that has it all.

Some readers have commented that a certain bit "reminds me of the scene in film x when..." or "is like the bit in the novel y in which..." And it always pleases me when they've spotted an influence. The thing is, I grew up loving horror. Films, books, and - later - games. They crafted my psyche from an early age, chipping the wood into jagged splinters full of horrifying unreal beauty. Turner came about from a combination of nightmares and conscious design. I wanted to write a homage to my favourite works, somehow patching elements together to make a new and satisfying whole, whilst still retaining the cheeky winks of a fan. And so I ended up with this lovingly constructed homage to horror tropes: zombie-like killers, hooded and disfigured killers, mad scientists, 'refuge scenes', torture, gruff macho anti-heroes etc.

In this post I'm going to list some of the influences. If you've read the novel, see which ones you spotted - I'll put the similarities in square brackets. The list is not comprehensive, and I've purposefully missed a few out - feel free to add others in the comments. If you intend to read the book then it is probably best not to read on, there may be spoilers.

I thoroughly recommend every work listed below.

Wow, writing this puts me in the mood for horror. Old woman Halloween is coming knocking with bony fingers, remember to leave the door open for her when you go to bed.

Films & TV
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) [The bwystfil, especially when he chases Patti and David; the chainsaw, and facial disfigurement]
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981) ['Slaughtered Lamb' pub scenes]
  • Exorcist 3 (1990) [blood pumping]
  • The Fog (1980) [lighthouse, killers with weapons]
  • Night Of The Living Dead (1968) [girl chased by monster, falls over]
  • The Warriors (1979) [in terms of the 'night of trial' setting - a high concept for non-literary fiction]
  • The Wicker Man (1973) [elements of the setting and Lord John]
  • Don’t Look Now (1973) [strange killer in a red hooded coat]
  • Pitch Black (2000) [Chris resembling Riddick, at the end he couldn’t protect the woman but is left with the non-adult; has a negative view of people and religions, and is a loner/ex-con]
  • Die Hard (1988) [Chris has a minor resemblance to John McClane, especially the barefoot bit and being dropped into a bad situation then becoming the chaotic element within it]
  • Silent Scream (1980) [a Hammer House of Horror episode I had seen as a child: cages, behaviour modification, bad science, criminal prisoner - I only made this connection when I saw the episode again in 2016!]
  • The Monster Club (1981) A cheesy portmanteau classic. I last saw it back in the 1980s, and yet the story called "The Ghouls" was almost certainly an unconscious inspiration for my novel, Turner. The Ghouls is still creepy and otherworldly today.
Novels and Stories
  • It by Stephen King (1986) [the 'floating' reference in Turner's prologue]
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983) [the epilogue where Chris sits with his back to the door, as if something is going to walk in behind him, like end of the PS novel]
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) [Lord John resembled Frankenstien, who followed lines of inquiry such as Paracelsus, even though the rest of the world recognised it as tosh - and still went on to have some success in creating a monster. In this case the spiritual mumbo-jumbo is part of the tosh Lord John has bought into. The fact that he criticised Bran Dddu for the same thing is part of his hypocrisy, something he fails to recognise despite his boasts of understanding and intelligence - playing with some dramatic irony.]
  • Poe Must Die by Marc Olden (1978) [Chris Turner resembles Pierce James Figg, and Lord John resembles Jonathan the black magician, both of which I didn't realise until I re-read Olden's novel in 2010.]
  • Midnight by Dean Koontz (1989) [in a town of dangerous killers, with a misguided madman in charge who thinks he was destined for great things and wants control over everyone, driving people to madness and killing; refuge scene etc. An imaginative 11 year-old girl in the novel makes some adults jump as if they had seen "a chainsaw-wielding maniac wearing a leather hood to conceal a deformed face" she thinks. Shows the prevalence of that trope.]
  • Children of the Corn by Stephen King (1978)
  • Intensity by Dean Koontz (1996) - I admired the non-stop forward motion and survival tension once events kicked off.
Computer Games
  • The series ‘Monster’ from Scream! comic (1984). [Uncle Terry leaves in a hooded coat (especially issue 7) and is a disfigured killer, but he only kills due to the way he had been brought up and mistreated.]
  • Chris resembles the anti-hero Harry Exton, from the 2000AD series 'Button Man' (1992), especially in episode 3. He ends up in a head to head with the main antagonist.
  • Also in 2000AD prog 862 (1993), Strontium Dogs series ‘The Darkest Star’ part 8, Gronk meets Johnny Alpha who is in constant pain, speaking with ellipses and broken sentences,  his body deformed and red and bubbling, wanting to die.
These are some resonances I only came across after I'd already written Turner, pointed out to me by other people. It's not surprising, since many of these are popular tropes in horror.
  • Reality: body found on Caldey Island (2011)
  • X-Files series 8, episode 4 'Roadrunners' (2000) [Scully alone in an upstairs room, weird locals all approach the building in the dark bearing torches]
  • Deadly Premonition (2010) [has a red raincoat killer - not an influence, since the game hadn't been made or heard of when I wrote Turner, but it is the same trope.]
  • Fallout 3 [has a vault where the master tried to control people and it turned them into killers; he also had control words to stop them. Also not an influence, for the same reason as Deadly Premonition.]
  • Bioshock - I played it in February 2014 for the first time. Control words and mutated warrior Bwystfils!
  • I've also been told that there are some similarities to these great-sounding books and stories, though - to my shame - I've not read any of them yet.
    Hater by David Moody (Infected Books, 2006). [Nightmarish situation, with the protagonist trying to survive random violence.]
    - Forever Twilight by Peter Crowther (PS Publishing, 2009). [A small group of survivors; communication with the outside world lost; an onslaught of killers acting under the control of another.]
    - House of Blood by Bryan Smith (Thunderstorm Books, 2004). [Survivors trying to find safety from bloodshed and death; a master and those under his control; an attempt to overthrow him.]
    The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft


Some recent Turner reviews

I'll be doing a few posts about Turner over the next couple of weeks, starting with some recent reviews.

"I really enjoyed the book. It had that real, natives gone mad that I like so much. It's a classic set up that he wrote really well. Karl is a very effective writer when it comes to action sequences. A lot of the time authors will just write "Then he did this. Then this happened. After that blah blah" that wasn't the case with Turner, the author wrote it very fluid as I think he's a very dynamic writer. I never really felt safe reading it (as I empathized with the good guy) even though I read it sitting in a comfy starbucks chair with local police around me drinking coffee. I had to start ordering Tall Lattes because the book always made me forget to chug down my caffeine. You could say Turner works better than coffee to stimulate the mind and body. Buy it so you can kick the habit too and be as afraid of small towns as I am now." From Amazon.

"Don't read this book if you are easily creeped out! The book starts out nice enough but read with trepidation, as it soon descends into horror and gore. The vividly descriptive scenes of the evil 'Lord John' will leave you chilled! Drinkwater writes in a fluid, descriptive style that flits between idyllic depictions of the Welsh wilderness and bloodstained portrayals of the sinister underworld that lies beneath the surface. It is the tension between these two simultaneously existing worlds that creates dramatic tension in the story, and slowly hooks the reader until they are unable to resist turning the page! Another interesting touch is the anecdotal quotes that mark the beginning of each chapter. These not only add interest but build more dramatic tension by hinting at the events to come. All in all, I think this is a great novel for fans of this genre, and one thing is for sure, you won't think quite the same way about remote islands in Wales again!" From Amazon.

"Wow, a great book that sometimes really takes your breath away. You keep reading what's going to happen to the four non-islander 'guests'. From the beginning you know/feel that something is 'wrong' with the island and the villagers. Four complete strangers have to run for their life. Who will survive this terrible night? Who can be trusted and who doesn't? Everybody needs somebody! Do read this book if you like a thrilling story." From Goodreads.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to add a review after reading my book!

Not this year

I made it to the finals of The Wales Blog Awards 2012 (muted applause from audience), in a shortlist of three for the 'Best Writing on a Blog' category (whistle and more clapping); I attended the event in Cardiff (some cheers); but I didn't win (deflated sigh from audience and apologetic look from the writer stood in front of them as pages fall from his hands like the sands of time. The audience leaves the auditorium.)

Still, I did have two lovely meals at VFS, a fantastic vegetarian Indian restaurant - if you're ever in Cardiff then please go along. Their takeaway snacks are well worth investigating too, especially the 'atom bombs'! I also stayed at my favourite Cardiff hotel, the Novotel, so got to enjoy the swimming pool, sauna and gym. The result: I felt like a winner anyway!

Actually, we're all winners. The other blogs in my category were really good, so any one of us deserved to win. On a larger scale the real winners are all the people connected to blogs. At the giving end we have the chance to communicate with a wide audience; and at the receiving end we, the readers, get a wealth of quality information and entertainment for free. Truly, the readers are the winners. Thank you, readers!

See the awards blog for some photos from the event.

Some powerful short stories

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Following a friend's recommendation I read two short stories recently: one was completely new, one was revisiting something I read many years ago. Wow! Both really impressed me, primarily as stories, but with the added benefit of saying something about the world too. I love things that work on multiple levels. They're both concerned with women and society, like my recent story Balance.

I recommend reading both if you haven't already. This is what I said about them on Goodreads.


Stories in games

Games (board games, computer games, playground games) are usually about one or two things. One is the system, the rule set. Some games, such as nought and crosses, only have that element. The other thing a game can do is tell a story, and sometimes they can do that in powerful ways because they let you join in, direct the story, and contribute to the ending. That leads to involvement and immersion, something every novel tries to achieve.

(Oh, I've just thought of a third thing games do - unless it is a single-player game, they can lead to social interaction, which can also be incredibly satisfying and an end in itself. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a week playing a huge variety of boardgames with some friends, and the social interaction elements were lovely, from the excited frenzy as a player made the dice roll they needed to become King of Tokyo, to the tense looks during Summoner Wars, to the rapidly made and broken alliances during Cosmic Encounter; or even the war-wounds and howls of disappointment from playing Geistes Blitz! Games like Werewolf are so good because of the social elements, the arguments and attempts to persuade other players. If you like boardgames, I highly recommend Robert Florence's Cardboard Children column on Rock, Paper, Shotgun [RPS].)

Much as I'd love to talk about board games, and the epic stories they can create, that will have to wait until another time. In this post I'm going to just look at single-player computer games with story elements, otherwise my scope is too large.

I've always been interested in the story within a computer game. Back in the days of my Atari 2600, and later 8-bit days (Atari 600XL, beloved Commodore 64, various Spectrum computers) I had to make up stories sometimes - or rather, I had to fill in the gaps - since the games didn't have enough memory to tell a full story themselves. Games like Antiriad, The Great Escape or Fairlight occupied my imagination, achieving far more than their 64K (about 150th of a single megabyte!) would suggest.

Dreamy Ruins



A poem I wrote a long time ago. I may re-do the video at some point. The first image is from a painting by the great Pino.


Wales Blog Awards 2012

September sings its song again. Today that song is rain, rain, rain.

But it's not all grey light glooms as I serve a piece of cake and some tea to my guests; I'm on a shortlist for The Wales Blog Awards 2012! Specifically, one of the three finalists in the 'Best Writing on a Blog' category. The three nominated blogs are all very different in style and subject so it should be an interesting decision for the judges: good luck to all of us. We'll find out the winner on 20th September at an awards ceremony in Cardiff. Keep an eye on the blog for the awards, since the event might be streamed live on the night.

You can also vote! There is a People's Choice Award for whichever blog receives the most votes. I'm not as high profile as many of the other blogs, but if you think my blog is worthy of your patronage, and you want to be promoted to a rank which entitles you to a choice of lemon drizzle cake or cherry coconut cake then please consider voting for me!

Editing - word choice and repetition

Every now and again I'm going to do a post where I explain some technique I use in research, writing, or editing. We all have systems and ideas we try, and I think it is good to share these. You never know, someone might have a better idea, or a refinement to your technique, which you will only discover if you are open about the things you do.

I recently finished the first draft of a 5,000 word short story, currently called 'Other  People's Stories' (yes, I know it isn't a great title!). One of the editing tasks I applied at the end was checking for repetition of the same words. Sometimes you get stuck on the same word; when pouring words onto the page it repeats itself every time. That's fine while writing, since the idea is to get as many words flowing as possible; the editing comes later. I'll demonstrate a method I use with a real example from editing that story.

Pied piper

I have a public Facebook page where I post links to do with writing (my own, or that of other people, or writing in general). Facebook is this fancy technology called 'social networking' which apparently enables easy two-way communication. Most reports by people called 'scientists' suggest that by 2015 it will completely replace any face-to-face interaction between humans. The positive effects of this will include eradicating communicable diseases, leading to healthier home sapiens; also it will do wonders for preventing procreation and therefore halting the population explosion. See, come here and you learn stuff!

Sadly, not many people currently 'like' my page. Until I get enough 'likes':
  • I cannot access "insights about my activity" (whatever that is).
  • I do not count as a whole person. In fact, it makes me look like a pathetic failure of a human being who no-one likes.
  • I will stop eating custard.
As you can see, this is pretty serious. So if you use this new-fangled book of faces, please consider clicking the button that says 'like'.

Turner book giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Turner by Karl Drinkwater


by Karl Drinkwater

Giveaway ends September 13, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Review: Z for Zachariah

Z for Zachariah
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had gone out of my way to get a copy of this book and the effort was well worth it. It's an excellently written story, kept simple so the focus is clear. It's about humans destroying the world; survival; holding on to values; hope; and the misuse of power. The details of many of the themes, such as Loomis' possessiveness, are cleverly layered in to the narrative. It reinforces something I've suspected for years: a well-written young adult novel can be just as engaging and tense as something which is more gratuitous, and in many cases the restraint shown actually enhances the story.

I have read some other reviews, and those who are dissatisfied with the novel often mention that they wish Ann had shot Loomis. She had a number of opportunities, and if she had taken them she could have saved Faro. I think this is perhaps more of an issue for a modern audience. Ann is true to her character and that is commendable, though I also found myself thinking "At least shoot him in the arm or leg, disarm him, take back what is yours." Two other aspects of the novel struck me as oversights. Why didn't Loomis hide the cart, lock it away? It was so important to him it seems strange that he left it in the open even after the conflict started. The other issue was with the padlocked store. Surely Ann could have just smashed the windows, then taken and hidden loads of useful supplies?

I won't let those caveats reduce the mark though. The novel tells an important story and grips the reader. I stayed up too late last night finishing it off, racing through the last forty pages. It's like a more innocent version of McCarthy's 'The Road', and with better punctuation.

View all my reviews

Who are you?

Image by marcos bh

This blog now gets around a thousand hits a month, and I am grateful to all the people who pass through the open gate and explore the Victorian gardens beyond. My stats give me an indication of the countries people come from (most visitors are from the UK, US, Russia, Germany, Australia and Canada); what browser they use (Firefox wins); and what posts were most popular.

I'd like to know more though. So please tell me a bit more about yourself in the comments below. Who are you? Where do you live? Why do you visit? Do you work in a creative industry? Do you like tea? What sports do you enjoy? What would you like to see more, or less, of on this blog? Why don't cats like being laughed at, whereas dogs don't mind? Feel free to link to your website or blog if you want, a free promotion opportunity! In fact, say anything you want, we're all grown ups.

The garden is open for visitors, the chocolate cake has been sliced and served, and mugs of northern tea plonked on a tray. Please help yourself and say hello while you're here.

Word police go for gold

Language is our tool for communication. We can use it well, or we can use it badly, but it is something we create and use, a democracy of sounds and scribbles.

We're seeing increasing attempts by big business to change all that. Spend enough money and you can make common words illegal. I was horrified to read about this in connection to the Olympics: The Independent, Marketing Week, Examiner and so on have all covered it. More commentary here, here and here. We've already had companies branding common words, taking ownership of them. Now we are seeing tentative attempts to ban use of common words to protect commercial interests. I recently read about an author whose children's fantasy novel included animals setting up the 'animal olympics'. He was told he would have to use a different word than 'olympics' because of the threat of litigation. Since when did a group gain ownership of an adjective for a place - Olympia - where games were held before corporations existed?

Don't be sloppy with the tool of language

The barriers to publishing novels electronically are being smashed. As a result the number of self-published books available is going up all the time. This is a table from the Smashwords blog showing the increase in the number of titles they host (the graph shape is similar for other platforms e.g. Amazon's Kindle).

It can be difficult to stand out as part of that sheer avalanche of digital words. The other day I had a comforting thought, which I'll get to in a minute.


Tor drops DRM

Tor Books, the world's largest science fiction publisher, will be eliminating DRM from all of their e-books. See this Guardian article: Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers. Please consider buying some Tor books to say thanks!

Being self-employed, and dealing with HMRC

If you are a writer and make any income from writing then you have to fill in a self-assessment tax return every year (even if you have another job that is PAYE - Pay As You Earn). It is one of the joys of being self-employed.

Warning: there may be some irony being used in this blog post.

I'm going to detail an experience I had with HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs).


Prometheus (film)

Last night I saw Prometheus at the cinema, Ridley Scott's attempt to create a prelude to 1979s Alien. I love the film Alien. It is one of those rarities where I can't find anything to criticise in it, nothing that distracts from the central ritual of experiencing a story. Blade Runner (also Ridley Scott) is another of the handful of films that I can't fault. I knew very little about Prometheus on entering the cinema, so did it live up to Alien? [Note - please don't read on if you haven't seen Prometheus but intend to: this post contains spoilers.]


Review: Horror Shorts

Horror Shorts
Horror Shorts by Drew Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wavered about how to rate this. The six stories range in sub-genre from creature feature (‘Toad-Lickers’; ‘Crownford’s Secrets’; ‘No Smoke Without Fire’), to ghost (‘The Washroom’), to sci-fi (‘Harry Wilson’s Dad’), to mad scientist (‘The Grave-Robbing Doctor Hawthorne and the Lady in the Black Veil’). Some of them walk a fine line between cliché and comfortable genre expectations. My favourites, which I would recommend, were ‘The Washroom’ with its creepy mystery and well-placed reveal; and ‘No Smoke Without Fire’ for its complete hopelessness and fast-paced horror. They are both the kinds of things I would like to see more of, and if all the stories had been at this quality I would have rated it as a four star collection. There is nothing wrong with the other stories, they just didn't capture my interest and hold it in the same way. I think Drew Brown has a good imagination and should focus on bringing us the unexpected and atmospheric.


Review: Ivory

Ivory by Steve Merrifield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Contains spoilers] I had read reviews about the slow pace, that it only picked up towards the end. This is true, but is not necessarily a flaw, more a matter of taste. I was happy to follow events in a slow-burn way, but it won't suit the impatient.

The novel is a strange mix. On the one hand there is some good writing, convincing detail ("shoved it whole into his mouth and gnashed bitterly at it, swallowing with self-loathing"), good use of painting as analogy/theme, professional plotting, and original ideas (the twist at the end caught me by surprise, having fallen for the red herrings as to the truth about Ivory).


Projects Timeline

For some time now I have been planning a timeline of my forthcoming writing projects. Since I first drafted this things have already slipped a bit so I have had to revise the dates! Life, eh? My priority is to rewrite and polish things that already exist in draft, then move on to new projects where I can experiment with fresh styles and structures. I like variety, which is why the subject matter changes from work to work.

An action-horror novel set on a remote Welsh island. I planned to have it finished and published by January 2012. I kept to the deadline!

Cold Fusion 2000
A story about a science-obsessed yet childish man changing his life for the better. First draft of a blurb here. I planned to finish this by July 2012, it is now likely to be September 2012.

People Stories
A collection of short stories about relationships. I already have the collection written, so this would be a re-write and selection exercise. There may be enough material with my new short stories to lead to a second collection at some point. Stories include an unwilling mother dealing with pregnancy; the gradual realisation that a relationship is over; and a three-in-a-bed swing session that doesn't go as planned.
September 2012 - February 2013.


E-book lending and libraries

The Society of Authors recently wrote to Ed Vaizey (MP; Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries) to pass on their views about e-book lending by public libraries.

As an author I didn't feel that their views represented mine in this matter; and as a librarian I was concerned about the subtext of their message. As a result I also wrote to Ed Vaizey to add some additional information to the debate. I will reproduce my letter below.


Cold Fusion 2000

I realise that I haven't mentioned my current writing project on this blog. Part of the problem is that I have a folder containing about 100 ideas for blog posts, and most of them are about writing and publishing in general, rather than my own work. However, I don't want people thinking that I'm not writing and editing so I'll use the space today to talk about my current novel.

Recently I recommended the Query Shark for advice on creating a query letter to tempt an agent. The query letter can often be edited into blurb for the back of a book, since the aims are the same: to entice someone to read the work. Below is my first attempt at creating this kind of blurb for my new novel. It needs some work, but as a starter it catches the essence of the thing. Maybe I'll submit it to the Shark at some point and see if it bites.


Query Shark

You have a novel written. It is fantastic. The characterisation is spot on; the plot takes you from one electrifying scene to the next; you've even worked out how to employ Robert McKee's advice on creating a gap between expectation and result. This will sell! However, many publishers are only interested in work submitted to them by an agent. So you buy a copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, browse the agents who accept submissions from unpublished writers, narrow it down to those who work in your genre, and start to put together a query letter.

The query letter is more important than you think. It is the agent's first view of the way you use words, their first impression of you. A badly-written one might lead to the agent not even bothering to look at your work.

You will find general advice on writing them in many places, including the aforementioned Yearbook, so I won't repeat that. However there is a really useful and interesting source of advice which I do want to mention - Query Shark.


Spring Horror Read-A-Thon

I love it when I come across references to Turner online. In this case I came across a review as part of the reader's selection for the Spring Horror Read-A-Thon, along with many other titles that I had already put on my phone to read. I love the idea of just reading horror for a period! A dark night of the soul that lasts more than one night. I was pleased that the reviewer appreciated the sense of history: although Turner is a horror novel, the subtext of English colonialism in Wales struck me as something worth integrating.

Naming games

Occasionally a visitor will spot a book of baby names on my desk and leap to conclusions. No, I've not become leaky-loined and begat a foetal version of myself. These books are some of my most important reference works.

Writers create imaginary lands peopled with imaginary... erm, people. Although some of those characters might have an aspect of their personality which was inspired by a real person or astute observation, they are generally unique. And unique things need names. And if I was left to myself I would probably end up with characters who are all called John, or Malcolm, or Englebertwhistle. In fact, this happened once - I scanned a list of all the names I had used in my short stories and novels and found that I had repeated some names far too often. Why was I obsessed with the name 'Wendy'? I don't think I've even had a friend or girlfriend with that name. Our minds can't be trusted to do what they want, we have to guide them.


Reviews on Goodreads

I recently posted about having joined the Goodreads community, which is proving to be enjoyable and useful. Today I noticed that two reviews had been added for Turner.

The first was a 5 star rating and a positive review from Frank. He said: 
"Horror (Check), Chilling (Check), well written (Check), Hilarious? Absolutely. This is a must read for any one who enjoy good horror writing, but also loves characters whose main reason for being alive is to make the reader pop a few laughs. I can't wait for Drinkwater's next works, I rate this one A+"
This really made me smile, especially the recognition of the novel's very dark humour, which not everyone takes to or recognises. The multiple characters were there to keep the reader guessing about who - if anyone - will survive.


Now on Goodreads

I've now joined another social networking site, an important one for bringing readers and writers together, or readers and new books - Goodreads. It is very clever. You can rate or review books you have read, and based on what you liked and didn't like it will make recommendations of other books you might like to try. It has already brought many titles to my attention that I can't wait to read. You can also see what friends are reading and get in touch with like-minded people. My profile is here: please befriend me if you have a Goodreads account!

As a writer it is also important to have details of your work on Goodreads so that people can find and discuss it. I added Turner here. There are various ways you can promote your books e.g. I took part in a giveaway competition and sent print copies of Turner to the Goodreads winners - which gains exposure for your book, and may lead to reviews and ratings, eventually (hopefully!) feeding back into sales.

If you rate enough books you have the opportunity to make an application to become a librarian. This lets you add and edit bibliographic details for books. As part of the process you have to include a summary of why Goodreads staff should approve your application. This was easy for me - I pointed out that I am a real-life librarian! Since becoming a Goodreads librarian I have already created book records, merged and updated data, and so on.

(Thanks to Bec for mentioning the site to me.)

Why is the lighthouse important? [Spoilers]

This is another post that you should avoid perusing if you haven't yet read Turner but you intend to in the near future, for here be dragons and spoilers. You were warned.

If you're still reading then you want to know the answer to the questions below - the most common ones people have asked me about after reading Turner.

Why is the novel called Turner? And why does a lighthouse feature on the cover?



The e-book version of Turner is temporarily available for free from many of the sites here. If you avail yourself of this sugar-frosted offer, and enjoy the novel, then please leave a good review on the site you got it from (or Amazon, or Goodreads). I will send good karma your way via the miracle of technology.

Passages from Turner [Spoilers]

I've recently started to get involved with the Goodreads community (my profile). Since Turner has an entry there I decided to also add a quote from my novel to its record. Selecting just one turned out to be a difficult decision! So I gathered a long-list of my favourite short passages from the novel before making my final selection. Since I only posted one on Goodreads I thought I'd include the full long-list below. Obviously these may contain spoilers, so don't read them if you intend to read the novel in the near future.

Let the quotage begin...

Velocity. It was like flying three feet above the tarmac. Wind rushed against him, roared in his ears, and he let out a whoop of excitement. This was living: taking the turns in the road at high speed, every one a risk and a reward.

He had cheated on her and she felt doubly betrayed, because it was one of her own sixth-formers he was sleeping with.
Why? Megan was athletic and had a small, tidy body; she thought she was fairly attractive. She worked hard but loved affection. She was intelligent, and could speak German, French and Spanish (as well as English). She admitted that she could be quick-tempered sometimes, but couldn’t everyone?
Her conclusion was just this: she was thirty years old; Janine was seventeen.
Men. She was better off on her own.


An assault on the psyche

I enjoy reading my work out to my writing friends, and hearing their stories in return, as we try out new voices and styles. In a class last week I had a go at portraying a human monster via monologue. My friend Simon Garrett wrote this in his blog:
"Another interesting thing was that Karl read a powerful, challenging story [...] Karl’s story was an assault on the psyche of everyone in the room. It was vile, repugnant, out of control, despicable - and deliberately so. At the end of the story, the response was not an intellectual one of “I like what you did with X, but not so keen on Y,” rather it was a coming to terms with the emotions we were each feeling, and why we were so appalled, and what it mean for the person in the story. It was an important lesson."
It was difficult to write too! I may do a video reading of it at some point and put it on the blog, with suitable warnings, though it wouldn't have the same visceral impact as reading it when sat within a few feet of the listener.

Simon's blog includes details of where you can buy his first novel, Teddy and the Darkgate.

Paypal's censorship

Latest news: Paypal has now adopted sensible policies! Thanks to everyone who pressured Paypal over this. Dianna (in the comments below) pointed me to the new Paypal policy, which no longer bans legal works: it will only prohibit using Paypal for items that are potentially breaking the law, which is a thoroughly reasonable compromise that everyone should be happy with. Smashwords has covered the new situation here as well as sending an email to all their authors, so thanks to them for their work in protecting the rights of creative minds to write - and publish - legal fiction. If you don't know what I'm talking about then read the post below for background. Is it coincidence that Paypal retracted their plans to censor works almost as soon as my post went up? (Actually, yes, it was coincidence, but it still make me happy).

Paypal has been criticised by many writers recently for their decision to refuse to work with some publishers if Paypal don't like the content of any of their books. The further twist is that the stated rules they claim to be basing things on are peculiarly arbitrary, and applied selectively (e.g. they are not applying them to large publishers, or to publishers of works that break their rules but which are well-known).

Writers' Village first brought the issue to my attention; then I came across this parody which imagines a world where this approach is taken to its extremes on the Smashwords Blog. Dianna Hardy makes some good points, and the National Coalition Against Censorship also covered the topic, stating: "Most telling is PayPal’s refusal to address the real problem – which is that the policy, no matter what its basis or motivation, has the effect of shutting down sales of legally-protected expression."


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This is not a novel but a musing, a diary, a philosophy forming; it is based around the running that Murakami does every day. The book is a combination of biography and extended metaphor. Running is used as a metaphor for life, and for writing. Train, persevere, adopt routines, dedicate yourself, learn to do things alone for extended periods: these are all good and noble.

Murakami achieves amazing things with his running. Perhaps he does not feel it when comparing himself to other marathon runners or triathletes, but compared to a normal human for whom a marathon would be impossible (let alone doing one every year) we have to respect the author. He earns it. He is affable and thoughtful, and spending time with his thoughts feels like a privilege and a chance to learn. A good example is from this section towards the end of the book:

"Thus the seasons come and go, and the years pass by. I'll age one more year, and probably finish another novel. One by one, I'll face the tasks before me and complete them as best I can. Focusing on each stride forward, but at the same time taking a long-range view, scanning the scenery as far ahead as I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner. [...] what's really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson."

I approve of the focus on fitness, and the book left me wanting to run more. That's got to be a good thing.

A touch of the vapours

Starlings and sunset: the view as I left The Old College
on 10th January after the first day of my new courses

I think it is really useful to go to writing courses or join writing groups. I've said so before. See here, if you don't believe me. See, I was telling the truth. That's the kind of guy I am.

From September to the end of December I was writing with my friends Ali Cocks and Emma each week, always finding that it led me to write something, even on the most mentally barren of days. Little things that it pleased me to write, and things written by my friends that it pleased me to hear.

Then I signed up for two courses, both on a Tuesday, which started in January. Developing A Voice In Writing was taught by Annette Ecuyere and took me through the morning section of this lovely day of creativity; then in the afternoon I would go to Writing In Genre taught by Jemma King. A few of my fellow writers would also be in both classes. Again, I was gently led to the field where I could run free, and rapidly filled a folder of short stories, extracts and story ideas. A few of them have appeared here, usually only the ultra-short experiments. Annette's class led to The Jug and The Runner; in Jemma's class I played with memories and bad words and was led back to The Vampyre as research for a class on the horror genre. The handful of 'proper' short stories I wrote (but haven't posted) will definitely be useful in the future when I come to put together two collections, covering topics as diverse as hurtful relationships with children, cycles of cruelty, and kidnap. What a cheery bugger I am.


Comments from an ironing board

I know, I know: it wasn't long ago that I was gushing over some lovely comments from people who had bought Turner. However, I can't restrain myself... hands, reaching out... must type...

The writer Bec Zugor is my lovely person of the week. Positive words from fellow writers mean a lot, and Bec is an established writer of literary fiction, horror, poetry, sci-fi - she captures the sadness of ghosts and the fast pace of the future. Therefore, when she wrote a review of Turner I couldn't resist linking to it. The summing-up sentence of "This will do, for visiting remote islands, what Jaws did for swimming in the sea" made me smile for a long time.

Links for buying some of Bec's work can be found here.

Are e-books fairly priced?

I just read an interesting article on Mobiledia, Are e-books fairly priced? (part 1, part 2) I don't agree with everything in there, but it does provide a concise summary of some of the battles taking place between traditional publishers and intermediaries such as Apple and Amazon.


I love feedback!

Recently I had feedback from a few readers of Turner. One told me that they had almost read the whole novel in one sitting (not the first time I've heard that). In other emails:
  • "Hey I just read it, it's wicked! Love all the references to classics like Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man... read it while staying in a tower block in central Hong Kong - about as opposite to Stawl Island as is possible... but I was still completely freaked out." 
  • "You are a dark man Karl drinkwater.... my husband said he could imagine the book as a graphic novel whereas I thought it wd make a great film. Poor old tom Stanley: in addition to the rollercoaster of fear and adrenaline l also found it incredibly sad - don't know if that's the mum in me sighing 'why can't we all just be nice' :)"
  • "truth be told I never normally read horror yours is the first I've read in years. I'm going to big it up to all my friends, I really think its a great book - I didn't want to put it down even though I was horrified."
It's gratifying that people read and enjoy it, but also that it works out as I intended - a page turner.
  • And from Japan: "I've read only the beginning and it's so elegant (I hope my English is good enough) I am looking forward to reading it!!"
If you like it please leave a review or rating on the site you bought it from - I will love you as much as I love nice feedback.

Lies, damned lies, and - ooh, that pie chart looks interesting...

I was going to write about the joys of being self-employed and having to deal with HM Revenue & Customs. But it is too depressing. So I will save that for another day, in my rapidly-expanding virtual folder of 'potential blog posts', along with other ideas such as interactive fiction via games, issues related to self-publishing, my timeline of projected publications, and using speech recognition software as a writer.

It is so easy to write words about writing words.

Instead I'm going to let myself get distracted. Do you have a blog or website? Do you find yourself poring over statistics, getting excited because another fifty people from Poland read your blog post about the perfect pierogi? I was fiddling with my blog stats this morning and noticed that there had been a peak in visits since the 11th February. (I should say that it was a peak above my normal average - nothing at all compared to a massive spike in January when a link to one of my blog posts about DRM had appeared on a popular website).

Innovatively-labelled graph showing a peak in visits since the 11th February



Does this qualify for my bad language tag or not? It certainly isn't clear what it means! "As you transition to this new experience" seems to imply that they are over-riding my privacy settings, but only when I get used to the idea... Maybe Facebook thinks I will be happy with it because the message was worded so daintily.

The Vampyre

Nowadays mainstream bookshops seem to have a whole section devoted to vampire novels, which usually seem to be some form of undead Mills & Boon. Like many classic monsters the vampire comes and goes in the night, waxing and waning in popularity. Where did the vampire fiction genre come from?

Many would say Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897 (download the novel at the excellent Project Gutenberg site, as text or audio file). However, the first novella which established many of the vampire-in-fiction tropes was The Vampyre, published in 1819 by John Polidori. It featured an aristocratic vampire (Lord Ruthven) with a bestial interior: an irresistible seducer of women and immortal corrupter of morals.


How do you do?

'How do you do' what? Why, read about my librarian role, of course! (Whereas my writing profile is here).

Chips on a Friday

The smell reminded me of greasy chips and greasy chip lives, fat-spattered gowns, asking for the scrapings for 20p and covering them with vinegar and tomato sauce and thinking it was a treat from Charlie's Chippy. Friday night occasional treats too, and the inevitable dilemma: what to have with the chips? Fish, sausage, cheese and onion pie, or steak and kidney pie? And what to go on the chips: gravy, beans, mushy peas, or curry sauce? That was old me in Urmston, but I remember walking past Charlie's years later, towards the park, newly veggie and being more interested in the health shop than Charlie’s chips (the health shop’s gone now; so has the park; Urmston’s shit nowadays), and it was obviously a new life for me, something I wasn’t used to, because I was thirsty and bought a carton of chocolate milkshake in the health shop, but nearly gagged when I tried to drink it, it was so thick and clotted and curdle-gelid, and my friend agreed it must be off; but then I noticed it wasn't milkshake anyway, it was ‘chocolate dessert’, some kind of cold custard, and it reminded me that there was lots to learn, and what you grow up with doesn't amount to the whole world of choices that exist.

The knowing smirk of a librarian in his natural environment

From the Cambrian News, Thursday 12th January 2012.

"Would you like your e-books with or without DRM, Sir?" Piracy, profit, publishers, progress and paranoia

Sales of e-books continue to rise. New formats of e-book reader keep being released. But that's enough good news. Instead let's talk about DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) again, since I've read a number of relevant articles recently. As a re-cap, I have discussed it in the following blog posts:
I've given examples of authors who have views on the subject which are similar to mine in the past, and I came across another recently, Harry Freedman in his article Why I'm Not Worried by E-book Piracy. I don't agree with every point, but it is certainly true that the 'threat of piracy' is a red herring in most cases, a distraction. It leads to money being pumped into new DRM systems and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby more and more people are put off the castrated legitimate offering. The ultimate twist is that DRM doesn't work at all in the way it is intended to, since all DRM can be stripped out, whatever the media; yet the more complex the DRM is - in order to try and prevent that - the more complications it causes for customers, and the more money has to be spent on it, like an arms war that cannot be won. This cartoon backs up that point in a humorous way. One of the things I love about indie outfits (whether game makers, musicians, or writers) is that they often avoid including DRM, meaning the experience of buying from them goes much more smoothly, and I am left with the desire to continue to support them. I think this is a large factor for many would-be purchasers. After all, DRM says, "I don't trust you". It is an awful statement to begin any relationship with. Have you ever been in a shop where they watch you like a hawk? How does it make you feel? What about when you go into another shop where you're trusted, with a 'take a penny, leave a penny' pot, where they don't mind if you pop back later with the 10p you were short of? I know which shop I would prefer to go back to. Publishers should focus on the customer and getting their books into as many hands as possible, not lock their doors and refuse to go out in case someone robs their house.


Animal Kingdom (film)

Ben Mendelsohn and Laura Wheelwright as 'Pope' and Nicky

Animal Kingdom is an excellent, tense and believable film, and is well worth watching if you want to try to analyse how the emotional effects are achieved with subtlety. The characters retain interest and complexity, and observing the way they disintegrate under pressure is compulsive to watch, accompanied by mounting unease and horror. It is a realistic portrayal of normalised deviancy, and Ben Mendelsohn's character of 'Pope' undergoes a riveting gradual transformation from the least scary character into a figure of nightmare via a horrifying and (probably) unexpected twist. All writers can learn from good writing in any media, so don't discount close observation of a film as being a good source for analysis.

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