Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Week 14- Motivation

Well it's April...

...and you will note the complete absence of the promised book. 
But so what? It was always an artificial deadline, as well as an optimistic one, and while I am disappointed not to have made it, it changes nothing.

Even the best of writers get into this situation from time to time, and the hardest thing is to stay motivated as you hear the deadline whizz by (to paraphrase Douglas Adams). I know lots of people who have started books and not finished them. In fact I know people who have multiple first five chapters on their hard drives that are going nowhere. Staying motivated is hard when you are busy, when you are getting only a few thousand words a week done, when the writing is shit, when the end seems a distance away, when you look back at what you've already written and realise the scale of the rewrites you're going to have to do, and of course when you have new ideas that seems more immediately enticing and exciting.

So how do you stay motivated?

Well, the truth is that the motivation comes and goes. I don't think anyone can stay motivated relentlessly for the time it takes to write a novel. For me, the trick is to keep writing when I'm not motivated. For all that I have probably picked up some bad habits by ghostwriting, and for all that it takes up a huge chunk of my time, it has taught me to write through boredom, exhaustion and total lack of motivation - because it has to get done or I don't get paid. My own books do not have the same weight of financial necessity, but I can take the attitude I use when ghostwriting - that this has to be done - and apply it to my own stuff. If you only write when you're really feeling it then you will, of course, write better, but also much more slowly. Writing when you know you're probably not going to write well is counter-intuitive but you can always fix it later. You may be unmotivated now, but in the long run you will regret letting it go.

It's been over a week since I worked on The Werewolves of Priory Grange but the last time I did I was really pleased with my work. I've now re-introduced a plotline that was only touched on briefly at the start and the werewolf is now a far more active part of the narrative. I'm still wondering about the time it takes for it to get there. I don't want to jump the gun on the slow build but I think the build ought to be creepier, I've been doing some research on other gothic novels and learning techniques I can use to build a suspenseful and oppressive atmosphere for my heroine. But all that will have to wait for the next draft.
I'll be back on it this afternoon and I feel under pressure to do good work. But good or bad, the work will done.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Week 10- Somewhat Behind

An April Release Date...

...is now looking extremely unlikely. At this point I wouldn't put strong money on May. I am behind for all the right reasons - other exciting work - but it is still frustrating, especially since sales of The Mummy's Quest have flatlined this month. But I am still working whenever I get the chance. I had a good day last Monday - felt good and managed to write a lot, and a bad day on Saturday, when I really wasn't feeling it and had to settle for 1,000 words before giving up.

Generally I don't write a day off if I'm writing poorly - I accept that it will be poor and I'll have to fix it in the next draft, then just write as much as I can. I'd rather shift the story along. But sometimes there are days when you're doing more harm than good. I don't think my ghostwriting day job helps in these instances, because then I am just trying to hit a word-count, and if I'm not careful I can fall into the same habit when doing my own stuff and that can affect the storytelling which is a lot harder to fix in a second draft. I don't mind fixing poor language, but structure is a bugger to go back and sort.

That said, as I'm working I've noticed that a couple of things which needed to be foreshadowed have not been, so I will be dipping back in and adding scenes and cutting scenes and moving stuff around. I didn't used to do this so much with books, and when I did I hated it. Which is why it used to take me so long to write a novel. That is the good side of the ghostwriting. Before I started writing a book a month to order, I never would have tried to write a book in 6 months for myself. Now I have more confidence in my ability to write quite fluidly from a rough outline and then go back and make it right 'in the edit'. A surprising amount of The Mummy's Quest was changed during the writing or was added afterwards, and I don't think it shows. 

The truth is that, as long as you follow the lead character, as long as you have a clear idea of who they are and what their arc is, then everything else can be readjusted around them. That is one area I won't skimp on, because I've screwed it up in the past. If I don't know what journey the lead character goes on, then I don't start writing.

I've now reached the more 'horror' sections of The Werewolf Of Priory Grange. I'm still concerned it takes me too long to get there, and I may yet go back and cut stuff or perhaps add some other 'light horror' scenes earlier on. I think it's still going well, despite a bad day's work. There's more blood and death in this one than The Mummy's Quest. And more sadness too, I think. The more classic horror I watch, the more aware I become of what a role melancholy plays, and I'm determined to harness that in this book, along with humour and horror.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Week 7- Staying in the Story

It's not going so well...

...as evidenced by the lack of blogs recently. I have not had time to post and likewise I haven't had time to work on The Werewolf of Priory Grange because I've been busy with other writing work. Admittedly that other writing is either important or paid (as distinct from 'important'), but it's still frustrating and my target of getting the book out in April is crossing the border from challenge to impossibility. I didn't intend for this blog to be a catalogue of why I'm not getting anything done, or a repeated discussion of how hard it is to find time to do this sort of work around the stuff with hard deadlines so I'll try to avoid harping on it and talk about a different issue the problem raises.

I only wrote about 1000 words of the book last week, and I had to do that hastily in between other things, just so I had written something that week. When I sit back down for a proper morning or afternoon with it then how easy is it going to be to get back into the story? The main call on my time recently has been ghostwriting - the books are a very different tone to mine and are written in first person, and if you've been writing 10,000 words a day in one style it is quite hard to just switch to another. (Or at least I find it quite hard.) I've always thought I was a pretty versatile writer, comfortable in different genres and media, and I've always worked on several things at once, moving between them. What makes this different is the time I've had to take away from my book - if I was ghosting in the morning and doing my thing in the afternoon (which is how I prefer to work) then that would be fine.
So what do you do? Well, what can you do? You read the last chapter or so that you wrote and hope that gets you back into the story, and you accept that the writing will probably be a bit shit for the next few pages while you find your feet again. As ever, first drafts are allowed to be bad - just get the story out and fix the writing later.
I'm sorry this has happened now because I had reached a turning point in the story, when all the stuff that has been beneath the surface, suggested through atmosphere (I hope), and inference starts to become explicit; when the suspense descends into actual horror; when people start to get killed. That wasn't really the case with The Mummy's Quest - as I've said before, that was more action/adventure, so it got going more quickly. I had been looking forward to writing this section but also feeling nervous because it is stylistically different to what I've written before and it's a key moment. Having to write it under these straitened circumstances is not ideal, but I'm still looking forward to it.
And that's something to say about The Werewolf of Priory Grange, however much it's delayed, however much I struggle to find the time to work on it, however much sales of the first book have plummeted this month, I enjoy writing it. And when you spend a lot of time ghosting books you don't actually like, then doing something that reminds you what a great job writing is and how lucky you are is vital.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Week 5 - Genre

You have to take risks...

...every now and then, or the writing becomes predictable. I'm not good with risks, I'm usually happy to write what is expected of me or what I think will please people. But I discovered a few years ago that I actually suck at second guessing what people want and I write better when I just follow my instincts, so I'm better off writing what I want and hoping people enjoy it.
The specific 'risk' I am taking about with reference to The Werewolf of Priory Grange book, is the genre into which it falls. Actually, 'sub-genre' would probably be more accurate. All the books in the Universal Library series are horror/comedy and tonally similar, but I've decided that the sub-genre of horror into which they fit is free to change depending on what suits the story. The first book, The Mummy's Quest (available here) is an adventure story, but that didn't really work with what I had in mind for the new one, so I am taking the bold decision to change genre and hope that the people who enjoyed the first one will go with me. The Werewolf of Priory Grange has less action and is more based on the old gothic romance novels - the sort of books where heroines (often governesses) are trapped in old dark houses in the middle of a windswept moor, with creepy children, a cast of aging eccentrics and a handsome stable hand in tight trousers. Now that I'm five chapters in (had a good weekend, managing to knock 8,000 words) I'm really getting into this style of writing and, in deference to the conventions of the genre, I've decided to make a couple of the chapters diary entries written by the protagonist.
My only slight concern is the pacing. In The Mummy's Quest there was certainly a good deal of character establishment and scene setting in the early chapters, partly because, as I have said before, that's my favourite part of the writing process, but that stuff was happening alongside the horror plotline. The Mummy makes it's presence felt early on and we meet it relatively quickly - although it is kept largely in the shadows at this point. The Werewolf of Priory Grange has a much slower build, it's more of a mystery. Because we don't know who the werewolf is, a lot of time is spent getting to know the people it might prove to be, dropping hints, foreshadowing events, laying the odd red herring. Again, I like this style of writing - this is the sort of thing I would choose to read - no matter the genre, I think storytelling should start with character. But it does make me worry about whether or not people will stick with it. In the end, if readers like a character they will follow them and allow the mystery to slowly unfold because it is the character they are following.  I just have to trust that people will like my protagonist, and if they don't then none of the rest of it really matters.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Week 4 - Names

I Was Busy Last Week...

Which is why there was no post - for which I apologise, I was at a silent film festival (that's how I roll). I did still manage to get some work done and a couple of thousand words today, so The Werewolf of Priory Grange is still moving forward! Slowly. The good news is that I finished my ghostwriting assignment, so I have a bit of free time until the next one starts on the 1st of February. But I knew that this would be a difficult task that I would have to fit in around all my other work so; bring it on.

I've just finished chapter 3, a chapter in which a number of minor characters (mostly schoolchildren) are introduced whom I didn't plan when I wrote the outline and so who all needed naming. Naming characters is my one of the chores of writing I dislike the most (it's almost as bad coming up with titles) and I usually sit down with the TV listings and scan cast lists until I find a name I like. But, with the Universal Library I decided to take character names from the films that inspired the books - principally the Universal Horrors, then onto the Hammer ones if I'm struggling. It's still a question of finding the right names for the characters but at least I have a list to work from. I then chop the names up as suits me so I'm not stealing names from a series whose copyright I may already be tiptoeing close to. So, for example, in The Mummy's Quest, the character of Arthur Banning takes his name from Arthur Byron (who played Frank Whemple in 1932's The Mummy) and Steve Banning (the lead character in 1940's The Mummy's Hand). Likewise in The Werewolf of Priory Grange, one of the main characters is named Lisa Hobson after Valerie Hobson and the character she played in Werewolf of London (1935), Lisa Glendon. The name Glendon I gave given to another character. Today I was naming a bunch of school girls, which means that if I encounter more female characters as I continue through the book I may struggle, as I have practically exhausted Werewolf of London, The Wolf Man (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Hammer Horror's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). The exceptions to this rule were the Egyptian characters in The Mummy's Quest; the modern ones' names were taken from a list of popular Egyptian names, and the period ones taken from a list of ancient Egyptian names in which I tried to find names that were both appropriate (in terms of level in society) and which suited the character. The more significant exception is Amelia in The Mummy's Quest. Her name was a carry over from an abandoned project about a paranormal detective called Amelia Hammer (a nod to the horror studio and detective Mike Hammer). I changed her surname to Evans (taken from The Mummy's Tomb - 1942) and always intended to change Amelia as well. But it suited her so well, and I'm not such a slave to my rules as to piss away a good character name on the rare occasions I blunder into one.
My favourite character name this time round is the head of the Universal Library and organisation, whom we have not met before, and is named Carl, or Uncle Carl. And if you're a classic film fan, then you'll know why I was quite pleased with this.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Week 2 - The Trouble With Freelance Writing

Making Time...

...is difficult. When I wrote the first book in The Universal Library series (the name is growing on me), I was aiming for it to coincide with the release of the Tom Cruise film The Mummy. It did not. That's partly because I was moving house (and city) at the time so there were other things I had to do. But it's mostly because when I wasn't doing house moving stuff I had other writing to do. Paid work has to take precedence, stuff with a hard deadline (as in a deadline with actual consequences) needs to come first. Personal projects, and especially those that are more for fun than a labour of love, are bound to slip by the wayside. The Mummy's Quest (available here as hard copy or download) came out four months later than planned and I'm happy enough that it came out at all.

The reason I'm bringing this up now is that since I wrote the first of these blogs a weeks ago I have had two free hours to work on The Werewolf of Priory Grange and have managed a grand total of two thousand words this week. On the bright side, I'm happy with the words, I'm into chapter 3 (the first two chapters are very short) and getting to know the lead character. This is the part of writing a book I enjoy the most, the first half where you get to build atmosphere and develop characters via interesting interactions - the actual action I find quite boring to write. The down side is of course that at a rate of two thousand words a week I will barely be finished by April 2019, let alone 2018, and I want to get the second book out as promptly as possible before people forget about the first. The first draft is the quick bit where I allow myself to make mistakes and write poorly so this should be doable.
The problem is, none of the other stuff is going away. Ghostwriting is my 'day job' so I can't let that slide assuming I want to eat, and I write about one book per month which is relatively labour intensive. My web series Dark Corners goes out weekly and is really where the idea for the books came from, as well as giving me a ready made audience for it, so even if I wanted to cut back on that it wouldn't help the books. Then I have a couple of other bigger projects which may help me to find a writing career beyond ghosting trash romance. All of this needs doing, most of it needs doing now.

What's the answer? There isn't one. There are a finite number of hours in the day and there are no shortcuts to writing what I need to write. The only real 'solution' is to manage my time better, make sure I'm working on the right thing at the right time and that I'm not taking too much frivolous time off for things like writing blogs...

At this point, I still believe I can get The Werewolf of Priory Grange out in April. It will be a struggle and a small thing could throw it off the rails, but having this blog helps, if only because it makes me believe - however erroneously - that there is an audience out there waiting for this who I should not let down.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Week 1 - The Werewolf of Priory Grange

Book 2 Starts Today...

...as does this blog, which is designed to chart the progress of the second book in my Universal Library series (and hopefully to promote the titles as well). Probably most people who read this will have read the first book The Mummy's Quest, but for those who haven't and don't know anything about the series, here's a the brief primer;
The Universal Library (which by the way, is a title I've only just given the series and which might yet change) was inspired by Universal Studios decision to reboot their classic horror films as the Dark Universe Franchise, starting with 2017's The Mummy. (They'd actually intended to start with Dracula Untold but it was so poorly received they decided to reboot the reboot.) I had no problem with the idea of a horror franchise that put all those classic characters in the same world, my problem was an innate certainty that they would screw it up by trying to be Marvel (monsters aren't superheroes) and by trying to create a franchise rather than creating good films and letting a franchise develop from that. So I decided to write my own Dark Universe, integrating the classic monsters into a single world but doing it my way not theirs - which doesn't necessarily mean mine would be better. The books would be horror comedy, because everything I write seems to end up as comedy on some level so why fight it? My plan was to release novels to coincide with Universal's release schedule. But of course The Mummy was derided, then disagreements between studio and directors added a final nail to the coffin of the Dark Universe. Which hasn't changed my plans, it just means that I just have a more flexible release schedule for my books.
The first story, The Mummy's Quest was released in October 2017 and the plan is to write about one every six months, meaning the next is due out in April, and it is the writing of that book that this blog is predominantly about.

I have a list of Universal monsters with story ideas jotted against them, and three of those were in contention to be the subject of the second book, but the werewolf won out and I spent a few months planning the story on paper till I had a rough chapter by chapter break down of the book that will be called The Werewolf of Priory Grange (for those who have read The Mummy's Quest; yes, the Sherlock Holmes references continue). Actual writing started today and I wrote a couple of thousand words this afternoon. Different people write in different ways, personally I like to get through the first draft as quickly as I can, no matter how bad the writing is, with the knowledge that I will go back and fix it later. That said, I have a lot of other work on at the moment (including ghost-writing books for other people) so I can typically just do an afternoon or a morning here and there.

Like I said, I think one of the mistakes the Universal made was trying to create a fully formed franchise - I just don't think that often works. So, although I knew that I wanted The Mummy's Quest to be the first of a series, I didn't and still don't have any over-arching storyline, and I didn't know which characters, if any, would be returning in the next book or those beyond it. Certainly during these early days in the series I'd like the books to be pretty stand-alone so anyone can dip in without worrying about backstory. I had two series in mind as inspirations, the first is probably pretty obvious; Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, which are the high water mark of comic genre writing and a series where you can start with practically any book. The other, less obviously, is the books of P. G. Wodehouse, which are of course some of the best written comic novels of all time, but also exist in their own world - characters from the Blandings series pop up in Jeeves and Wooster and minor characters from Jeeves and Wooster have whole books of their own. The point is, it's not a world in which everyone has to be in every book, it's a world in which characters appear when it is natural for them to do so - which feels like a far more fully realised world.

That seems like enough for a first post. I will try to get one of these out a week as I work, creating an artificial sense of anticipation for the April release.