Friday, 30 March 2018

Recent Promo Images And Videos

A selection of promotional images and videos I've used since the last post on this topic.

Enter the haunted gallery - Karl Drinkwater's Horror Collection
 
All work and no play makes Jack ... Move Below. With Them. They Move Below

The Bayeux of Turner

A story for brainy people (and geeks). Cold Fusion 2000

2000 Tunes. One love.

A new Harvest Festival trailer - my favourite one.


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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Friday, 23 March 2018

Ways To Polish Your Manuscript


Over on the ALLi website you'll find an article where I give various self-editing tips. Here's a backup of the article.


An author should always aim to make their book the best it can be. Unless we are literary geniuses, you can’t get away from some element of human feedback. Working with a professional editor is the gold standard, but if for any reason that doesn’t occur there are still other things that can improve a work. And if you do use a professional editor the tips below still apply, since it is best to do edits and rewrites before sending the work to an editor. The better the work is, the less time they have to spend correcting basic errors, and the editing costs on a more polished manuscript may well be cheaper too. If your book was important enough to write, then it’s important enough to nurture.

Read through the work multiple times

This is basic, but still needs stating. It’s also important to vary how you do this. Sometimes you need to get away from the screen, so print a draft out on scrap paper (I often do two pages per sheet) and sit in the open air with it. Mark it up with green and red pens (ideas and corrections).

Use software tools

Here are some writing and editing tools for authors that can flag up potential errors – though you’ll then need to apply human consideration to understand the issues raised and weed out false positives.

Critique groups

Make use of critique groups. You may be lucky enough to have a local face-to-face one (or you could set one up – I’ve been involved with both types in the past), but there are also many online groups that may be useful.

Beta readers

Many authors have a small and trusted group of committed superfans who act as beta readers – reading the work when it has gone through numerous edits and is just about finished. They can give lots of useful feedback. Many authors provide a questionnaire to guide the beta readers. This ties in to developing a good-quality list of newsletter subscribers.

Writing courses

Go on writing courses. Look out for the ones that give you one-to-one time with a tutor so you can discuss your work-in-progress. I have been on a lot of courses. Here are some tips for attending courses. Though note that residential courses can be as expensive as working with an editor, so weigh up the best use of your money.

Read out the work

Reading your work aloud really helps to pick up on clunky phrases and repetitions that you miss on the page. I started doing this when I was preparing my novels for audiobook versions, but now do this on everything I write. If it reads well, it flows well.

There are also lots of software options. I purchased a professional SAPI voice from Cereproc in a half-price offer, and use it with the free software Balabolka to generate an mp3 file of any document. The quality is excellent and I can listen to the book on my phone anywhere (even walking or exercising) and make notes of phrases to change. Lots of improvements will be spotted this way. A final tip – I purchased a Scottish voice. This makes me hear the novel in a new way and it becomes unexpected and fresh, so that I hear the words spoken, not the words I expect.

Rinse and repeat

None of those stages are one-offs. Some of them you will do multiple times across the whole work, or for specific problem scenes as you rewrite them.

To the future!

The biggest problem with first books is that they are often not quite ready; there’s good stuff in there but there hasn’t been enough rewriting and editing in the rush to get them out the door. Established writers are better at spotting weak points but beginners don’t have that experience yet: so make use of everything you can and invest in your book. We want our work to shine because our reputation, fanbase (and how quickly it grows), and future book sales all depend on it. Ratings and reviews hang around for a long time, and we owe it to ourselves and our readers to make a great first impression.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Tank (La Cisterna), by Nicola Lombardi


I had never heard of Nicola Lombardi before. That's not surprising. He is an Italian horror author and this is the only one of his books translated into English (as far as I am aware). I only became aware of this book because it was in the preliminary ballot for the Superior Achievement in a Novel category of the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards (the same year as one of my books was in the preliminary ballot, though for a different category). I like to follow prizes so acquired many of the books on the preliminary ballot, to discover new authors and titles. And then, of course, it took me a long time to get round to reading them ...

Well, I read a lot, and only two of the books I'd acquired from the list really moved and horrified me. This was one of them. (The other was The Sadist’s Bible, by Nicole Cushing.) I finished The Tank last night and the ending was every bit as bleak as I'd expected.

I'm not going to tell you what it's about, or what the titular Tank is for. No, it isn't the kind of tank with a gun and metal treads. But this story follows a single character through a year of their life, and almost every moment of it takes place within just a few rooms. In lesser hands that could be repetitive and slow, but I never felt that was the case here. I was always compelled to read on, even when I occasionally felt sick. I _had to know_. And the character arc and revelation both rewarded me and punished me for my morbid curiosity, totally in keeping with the contents of the story. Some things are so horrible that they create a sick fascination; the imagination wondering "What would it be like if ..." and refusing to stop prodding and probing. Here the reader almost experiences the same gruesome obsessions as the protagonist. Why are we doing this? What awaits us? Will our soul be permanently degraded by the experience? And what is the worst punishment for a crime?

The story is set within a totalitarian fascist regime, the New Moral Order (NMO). We have the stifling observation and secrecy of 1984 crossed with the moral bleakness of The Road, and told through a perspective that isn't a million miles away from "potentially deteriorating mental stability of a lonely lighthouse keeper" stories.

I thought this book was brilliant. It did everything it should, but with the most important being: make me pick up the book again and carry on. To know the truth even though I suspect what it will be, and it won't be pleasant.

There is one element I haven't touched on. The translation. Much as I hate to criticise things, it sometimes reads as if Google did it. On the one hand we get strange turns of phrase that wouldn't come about from a native English speaker - and that's actually not a problem. If anything it adds to the charm and the alien-ness of the thoughts, and the freshness of the imagery, and I would keep that aspect. However, there are also a lot of typos and incorrect words, and they are all ones that would have been easily picked up by a native-English proofreader (e.g. "the voices were suddenly louder know.") Now, please bear in mind that I am a stickler for punctuation and writing and grammar. I make my living as a writer and editor. I have been known to drop books for far fewer mistakes. So, the fact that I give this five stars DESPITE THOSE ERRORS is a huge vote of confidence. I am sure the original work in its native language is much more eloquent, and the issues are all minor translation issues that could be easily fixed whilst keeping the bulk of the translation exactly as it is. It's as if I am looking at the original story through a dirty window. And the view is enough that, despite the grime, or the barriers to communication, I keep looking. That's actually high praise. This is truly one of the most compelling and horrible books I've ever read.

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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Lost Solace On Jera's Jamboree


I love the great reviews Lost Solace is getting. The other day I came across this one, on Jera's Jamboree. Have a read of that first. It got me thinking.

I’m really glad that the reviewer loved the book, and that they commented on some of the things I tried to do. In particular, one of the rules of fiction (or a blurb) is that you have to show the character, what they want, and what’s stopping them – as soon as possible. So I turned that on its head and asked: what if I break that rule and don’t even reveal what the protagonist wants until the final chapter? That led me to think of ways of working with that, hence the focus on immediacy and dragging the reader into a compelling high-risk scenario, and trying to make the characters immediately identifiable. When I work with writers I often instil various rules in them, but always emphasise one that is above everything else: you are allowed to break any rule of fiction at all, as long as the end result works.

I have the story arc plotted out for all three books of the Lost Solace trilogy. I am so excited about writing them and continuing Opal’s quest, since the first book only hints at some of the stuff going on.

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Friday, 9 March 2018

The Sadist's Bible, by Nicole Cushing


I had little idea of what to expect with The Sadist's Bible, having never read Nicole Cushing's work before, but I was quickly pulled in. There is no dallying about - we get a strong premise right away, and are dropped into the crux of the situation in a way that inspires confidence in the author. Then there are twists I didn't see coming, and imagination that surprised me - not easy to do - and I was left pondering this fascinating and horrible tale that does not overstay its welcome. My favourite books leave me wanting more, but being denied it. This fits that pattern.

Some elements reminded me of The Hellbound Heart, others of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. The book impressed me in both concept and execution. From me, that is high praise. 5*

[I've avoided spoilers, but be warned that this book contains some (well-done) extreme horror and potentially upsetting content.]

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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Sources Of Images


Where can you get images to decorate your blog posts? Can any of them be used for book covers, banners or business cards? Here are some ideas. I'll go beyond images and include some other media types.

General Images
If you want to re-use things then Creative Commons is one option. The Creative Commons search is really good, and lets you search different types of media (you can do the same for Flickr).

These sites are the main ones I browse when I am looking for free images or inspiration.
There are also sites where you pay for images. I have reservations about some of these.
Never forget the option of just taking a photo yourself! It is sometimes the easiest way, if you need have a good camera and want something very particular.
Other Media
Image Editing
I favour Gimp for editing images, including book covers. Gimp is a free, community-maintained tool. There are also free online options such as Pixlr, and paid options such as BeFunky - though both of those require crappy Flash. Many people also praise Canva for having good control of image and layout, Facebook/Twitter covers etc.

Always Check Permissions!
Many of the sites I have linked to offer images that are free as in "no money" and also free as in "no restrictions" (or fewer restrictions) on use. Although the quality of images may not be as consistently high as those on professional stock sites, I have often been impressed with the free ones available.

Note that not every image on the sites is available for every use though. Here we get into the issue of "licences" - the rules governing what the photographer says you can do with their image. Always look at the small print and check in case the images are free for personal use (e.g. decorating a blog post), but not for commercial uses (such as a book cover). Most sites will make the licensing information and permissions clear from a link. Do read this, and abide by it - it's not worth breaking the law for the sake of a minute checking what you can do with an image! If in doubt, go elsewhere. And be aware that even on the same site, different images might have different restrictions - some sites let the photographer decide on the particular licence. I usually make a screenshot of the licence and save it in a subfolder along with the image URL, for future protection.

Sites may well have their own licences, but many use Creative Commons, which has a variety of licences with different meanings. There's also public domain and royalty-free works. Even Creative Commons includes a Public Domain licence where the creator surrenders all rights in the work, so you can use it for any (legal) purpose. If you work in education then Xpert can be a useful tool - as well as finding images, it can build in the source, attribution and licence, so also teaches students about these issues.

Any graphics sites you use which other people should know about?
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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Karl Drinkwater

Recently I was interviewed on The Haphazardous Hippo. Here's a backup of the interview.



The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Karl Drinkwater



I’m hanging out with an author who writes several genres of books ranging from horror to contemporary fiction and I’m delighted to welcome Karl Drinkwater to The Hippo today.
Lost Solace is Karl’s latest book so let me tell you a bit about it.
                                                           Blurb
Sometimes spaceships disappear with everyone on board – the Lost Ships. But sometimes they come back, strangely altered, derelict, and rumoured to be full of horrors.
Opal is on a mission. She’s been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship.
Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship, in a lonely nebula far from colonised space.
The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star, and will soon be truly lost … forever. Legends say the ships harbour death, but there’s no time for indecision.
 
                                                     *    *    *    *
Lost Solace has got some fabulous reviews so I think it’s well worth taking a look at but don’t rush off and do that just yet as Karl is here now and I know you want to know more about him.
Photo courtesy of Karl Drinkwater
Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for half his life. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.
He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.
When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.
Karl is a professional member of the Horror Writers Association, and an Author Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
                                                      *    *    *    *
What book/books made you cry and why?
Harry Cat's Pet Puppy by George Selden. I read it as a child when I was coping with the death of my guinea pig. The portrayal of all the animals and the way they suffered from neglect really hit me. I was probably about eight years old. I remember crying my eyes out, wanting all beings to experience love and protection. Along the same lines would be Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and Watership Down by Richard Adams. All kids should read those books, then maybe we’d have more compassion in the world.
As an adult, I cried when I first read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. To see our world of such potential beauty destroyed by human choices, actions and cruelty … I think it hit home quite hard.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes. As a child I hated my surname, and wanted to change my name to James Bond. I’m glad that never happened: can you imagine the bullying I’d have endured? Anyway, I eventually made peace with my quirky surname. And since I was about seven years old I told people I’d be a writer; it then seemed better to use the name they’d recognise, so they could see I’d stuck to my obsession.
It can be difficult using a single name when you write in multiple genres as I do. I try and make it clear from each book’s description what genre it falls into, so my horror fans don’t pick up a quirky contemporary love story, or my litfic fans don’t pick up a sci-fi thriller. Then again, if it is my writing and ideas that people connect with, then perhaps having some crossover is a good thing.
What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
So many. The writing community is a supportive one, and we all help each other to improve. All of the literary editors I’ve used are also authors, since authors best understand the processes and methods – when something doesn’t work, we will have suggestions to fix the problem. My friend Julie Cohen has given all sorts of useful pointers over the years, to me and many other authors, so I count her as one of my main mentors at the moment, but there have been lots of others. I also learn from the authors whose work I edit. The process of analysing text in close detail, identifying issues, and how they can be improved: doing that for other people also makes you a better writer. And the end result is the circle of friendship and support grows.
Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
I do get emails, blog comments, messages and so on, and they say things about my writing that make my heart swell. As with reviews, it’s a more intimate affirmation than quantitative royalty statements and sales. My last book was Lost Solace and not only has the feedback been amazing, but I’d say 90% of the praise in messages and reviews is about the main character Opal, and her artificial intelligence companion/friend/spaceship Clarissa. People fell in love with them and their relationship, their strength. And that is something that makes me proud, because in an experiment that could have backfired I had decided to write a novel that, for the bulk of it, features only those two characters. To feel the love from people’s words … that means I succeeded.
What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
Which is more important in a painting: shapes or colours? You can’t separate them, because they are both equally important overall, even if different individual works gain an effect from focusing more on one or the other. Without characters that intrigue the reader, and who face obstacles to their desires, it is hard for a reader to connect. Without things happening as a result of how characters react to the obstacles (which forms our plot), you have meandering introspection and random chance. A good book needs both. Lost Solace is praised for the characters, but without a tense and fast-paced plot (made up of obstacles to their desires, of course) the characters wouldn’t be able to show their strength and become interesting. The two elements of plot and character are entangled and mutually supportive (then ideally overlaid with other elements such as style and voice).
You get a brilliant idea/thought/phrase at an inappropriate moment (eg in the shower or driving) what do you do?
Happens all the time. I keep a pad by the bed and jot notes in the dark. Or I grab my phone and record an audio file with the ideas in. If I am in the shower I will repeat the idea until I get out and can record it; or if it is complex, I’ll develop a mnemonic that fractally compresses the concepts for decoding later. I often think of things on the verge of sleep, and am quite good at repeating then storing the idea, so that when I wake up it is the first thing in my mind and can be recorded.
 If a genie granted you three wishes what would they be?
The first one would be something to do with compassion. Maybe if humans felt the impact of their choices we wouldn’t be so selfish and thoughtless. If we felt the pain from any action that causes pain, then it would destroy selfishness and thoughtlessness at a stroke. I don’t see the point of free will if it leads to suffering. So I’d do this, and humans could be united with each other and with all sentient beings.
I’d implement a guide so that humans would restrict ourselves and our impacts to a percentage of the earth – maybe 30-40%. The rest would be left to nature, with interconnected corridors for wildlife. The problem is that currently humans and human law see the whole earth as belonging to us, just one species, and unfortunately the most destructive one. Our level of consumption increases year on year, as does our population (even when birth rates drop slightly, they still result in an overall global population increase). We’d have to voluntarily restrict our population to sustainable levels to achieve that. Covetousness of all that the eyes behold is not an endearing trait.
For the third, it would be gifts resulting from those above. Reduction of pollution. Increase in compassion and community connections. We’d have support networks, more natural lifestyles, better diets, reductions in disease. Minds that are surrounded by beauty and love and support, rather than obsessed with time pressures and hemmed in by concrete and alienation. We’d have peace. I don’t think there’s any point looking to expand to other planets until we can learn to live sustainably and at peace within the beautiful one we have already.
I love your three wishes Karl, if only we could find a genie that could grant them! I thought that the above quote fitted in with them very well and I hope you do too. 😉

You can find out more about Karl, his books and connect with him using the links below:
I'd like to thank Karl for hanging out with me today. It's been great getting to know you better. 🙂

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Friday, 2 March 2018

About Me, 2010-2015


I have an "About Me" page that lists all sorts of biographical stuff along with publications, interviews, awards etc. I decided it was getting too long, so have removed the entries from before 2016. The removed stuff has been transferred here.

Interviews / Guest Appearances
Publications
Other Stuff
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