Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Kindle Summer Sale

The first two books in my Jefferson Tayte mystery/thriller series are now reduced through August for the Amazon Kindle.

IN THE BLOOD: A Genealogical Crime Mystery #1
A dark secret locked in the past.  A family historian trying against the odds to unlock it.

Now £.79p / $.99c

Why can't I trace them? What happened to them?
Set in Cornwall, England, past and present, Tayte's research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark family secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and they will stop at nothing to find them.

TO THE GRAVE: A Genealogical Crime Mystery #2
A wartime secret with deadly repercussions.

Now £1.59 / $2.99

To the Grave follows American genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, as he uncovers the disturbing consequences of a seemingly innocuous act in 1944 that was intended to keep a family together, but which ultimately tore it apart. He embarks upon a journey that takes him back to England as he tries to unravel the story of Mena Lasseter - a girl whose life has become a family mystery.

Monday, 29 July 2013

New feature at The Family Curator.

I was featured today at The Family Curator.  Denise Levenick who runs the website managed to coax a little information from me about my next Jefferson Tayte book.

Follow this link to read the entire feature: The Family Curator

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Something to consider for your author toolkit.

In my last post I gave a little insight into how I write and while chatting on the Kindle Users forum afterwards about Scrivener with fellow indie author David Haynes, I was reminded of one of the reasons I do my final drafts, not in Scrivener, but in MS Word.  I have several reasons for this and one reason is because I find it easier to do what I feel has become a vital part of my editing/proofreading process, and that's to have my book read aloud to me.

While I was editing In the Blood I came across an excellent piece of software called NaturalReader.  You can take a look at it here and listen to voice samples.  I didn't want to rely on having to have a real person (Mrs R in my case) available to read to me, and doing so would have taken up a lot of my wife's time.  I also didn't like the mechanised sound of the free text to speech software I had access to, so I was very pleased to find NaturalReader. I went for a two voice package and chose Acapela's British Peter and Rachel.  I listened to all of them several times and thought Peter best suited the tone of my books.  Rachel reads research to me whenever my eyes are tired or I just feel like sitting back and listening - especially if the subject I'm researching is a bit heavy going.

The voices are not perfect, and certainly not as good as a professionally read audiobook from for example, but they have come a long way.  I found I soon warmed to Peter and it didn't take long to tune in to some of his speech oddities.  You can also edit the phonetics of words if they're not pronounced as you expect, which is particularly useful for characters' names - an example of which is a French character from The Last Queen of England called Michel Levant.  Peter would read that surname all wrong to my ears, so I told the software that whenever it came across that word, it would say it more like 'Leh-von' than 'Leh-vant".

You can also create MP3 files so you can proofread on the go with your iPod, which I don't tend to do because I like to pace the room as I listen, and then jump onto my keyboard, pause the speech and make my changes right there in the Word document as I go.  Below is a link to a sample MP3 file I created for the prologue in To the Grave so you can hear Peter as I hear him when I'm running through an audio edit.

I think this part of the process really helps to prepare my books for publication and I'm frequently surprised by how often my ears pick up an error that my eyes have missed, sometimes after several drafts.  It's also particularly good for editing dialogue, because when it's read aloud to you, you know straight away whether it sounds natural or clumsy and stilted.  The same goes for long, run-on sentences and awkward paragraphs in general.

It's not super-cheap, but it's not that expensive either, and to me it's been worth every penny.  I was about to add that you only have to buy it once, regardless of how many books you write.  Then I realised I have actually bought it twice because I wrote In the Blood on a PC running Windows, and then I switched to Mac so I could use Scrivener (which wasn't available for the PC then).  So I've had to buy NaturalReader twice.  But it was still worth it in my opinion.  It's fun, too.  I just had Peter read this blog post back to me. :o)

Friday, 26 July 2013

Book 4 update & tip - know what you want to write.


I thought a progress update on my next Jefferson Tayte book was about due.  Two weeks ago the word count ground to a shuddering halt as I realise that, although I knew generally where I was going with the plot, there were some big questions that remained to be answered in the past narrative I'm currently working on.  Sometimes the answers to these questions just pop into my head - typically when I'm doing something completely unrelated.  Other times I have to grind it out, and it can take days (or weeks) to find the answers, during which time I write copious amounts of notes going off on one tangent or another.  Well I'd gone about as far as I thought I could go without finding the rest of those answers and I'm pleased to say that I now have - all but one, which I hope to have resolved by Monday.

I've written around 5000 words this week (Monday-Thursday) as a result of knowing what I wanted to write.  Some writers might not consider that much, but over four days I know that's good going for me and I'm very pleased with the progress.  So much so that I'm going to allow myself a break to play golf this afternoon (Friday) having abstained for the past two weeks while I was working on the plot.  And who knows?  I might well be mid swing on the tenth hole and bam!  That remaining plot issue, which I currently expect to take me all weekend to resolve, could just pop into my head.  

A little milestone has also been reached this week in that I've passed the 20,000 word mark - one fifth of the first draft completed and about half of the past narrative :o)

How I write

I write my early drafts in a software application called Scrivener and I love it.  Pre-Scrivener days I used to write scene titles on post-it notes and stick them all over the wall, now I do it on my screen with a virtual cork board.  Instead of having many separate files for every scene, character, plot and research note, which is how I used to write, I have everything within the same application, and I can switch everything about and organise things will great ease.  I have sections where I keep all my research and others for all the characters.  It really makes sense to me to keep everything in the same project file.  I love Scrivener and can't imagine working without it now.

I wanted to show you a screen shot of my current project, which is just called Book 4 for now - so you can see how it looks, but I quickly realised it would spoil the story as I name every scene with a brief resume of what happens.  So that's a big no-no.  Here's a screenshot though of the little target box that tells me how I'm doing.  The target is shown higher than I've posted here on my blog as I've written lots of scene notes where I plan to write the next scene, so the software includes those notes and I just subtract them when I post the total on my blog.

I've set a target for the completion of the first draft and I tell it which days I write on, and it tells me each writing day how many words I have to write in order to achieve that target.  Both bars start out red and gradually turn green as I get closer to reaching the target.  I really like it.  I feel good when I hit my daily target and I feel great when I smash it - as I've done every day this week.  I put that down to having spent the last two weeks really working out what I wanted to write.  People talk about writers' block like it's some unknown thing that just hits you out of the blue some days.  I get days like that, but every time it happens I can usually put it down to not being prepared for what I want to write next.  That doesn't mean I always write what I set out to though, because I love those curve balls my characters throw me every now and then.  But having a solid framework to follow certainly helps to keep the story moving forward, and then the word count takes care of itself.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

An image of summer.

Caught a nice image with my macro lens of a bee drinking nectar from a nettle flower in my garden.  I thought it looked very summery and wanted to share it.

Friday, 12 July 2013

My story so far - part 4.

In June 2012 I published my second book, To the Grave - which I forgot to mention in part three was timed to coincide with the anniversary of D-Day because of the 1944 narrative. It was actually published on the 5th of June though, because I’d overlooked the fact that Amazon use Pacific Standard Time, but that was the idea.

Anyway, onto The Last Queen of England (LQE).  I was very concerned about whether I could make LQE fit into the series because there was one fundamental thing about it that was different: it had no past narrative.  I thought about adding one, but in the end I chose not to because I felt the story was so much more personal to Jefferson Tayte, and I wanted the focus on him, rather than sharing it with a character in the past as before.  And I felt that this story worked better without a past narrative because of the fast ‘thriller’ pace, which I wanted to maintain.  The other concern I had was that I had written a much darker story with LQE and it was too dark compared to the first two books.  So that became my focus: to keep the story essentially as it was, but to tone down its dark side. Originally, the bad guy from the prologue wasn't stealing family heirlooms for the binary digits engraved on them; he was taking them from his victims' scalps with a surgical scalpel inherited from his own ancestor.  You see my concern: it was was much darker.

Outside St Paul's Cathedral.
My intention was to release LQE a year after To the Grave, thinking that I could get it ready and get a head start on the fourth book so the gap between books three and four wouldn’t be so long, but it all came together so much faster than I’d anticipated.  Suddenly I had the chance to release it before Christmas, so that’s what I did.  It was more than ready and I couldn’t see any reason to hold it back.  If I'd stuck to my plan I would only have released it last month!  I'm glad I didn't wait.

I really held my breath when I released this book, hoping that the lack of a past narrative wouldn’t be an issue and that I'd done a good enough job with all the changes I'd made.  It’s been out almost eight months now and when I look at the ratings and see it on a par with the other two books, I wonder what on earth I was worrying about.  On reflection, I like the idea that you don’t quite know what you’re going to get from one book in the series to the next.  I think it keeps things fresh.

As some will already know, I thought at the time that The Last Queen of England was my last attempt at a writing career.  I remember saying to my wife once I’d finished the original version  that I didn’t think I could do it again.  I had written three books and they had taken several years to write on a full time basis, with no income and no promise of them ever being read, let alone earning a living from my writing so I could continue to write.  I  had thrown everything I had into it, trying three different approaches to the basic genealogical crime mystery concept that the agents and publishers who saw my work universally agreed was a good one.  If LQE wasn’t a success, I felt I had nothing left to offer.  Then the whole e-book thing came along and Amazon gave me a platform on which to publish myself.  I’m very grateful to them for the opportunity Kindle Direct Publishing gave me, and of course I'm grateful to the readers who have bought my books.  When I write now, I do so with the knowledge that my stories will be read.  I needed to know that if I was going to continue writing, and for that I sincerely thank you.

I mentioned last time that there were a few highlights to come.  The first was when I was contacted by a French film producer earlier in the year, asking about the TV/Film rights to In the Blood.  My books have sold very well in France, with In the Blood having been in the Amazon top 100 for around 300 days when I last looked.  So although I was surprised that such an enquiry should come from France, I guess I shouldn’t have been.  I looked into the producer and saw that among many other things, he’d worked on the film Charlotte Gray and on the Highlander TV series, so I wrote back and said that the rights were available.

I had a response to say that the 'team' were going to look at the story more closely and come back to me with their creative vision.  It was all very exciting, although I’ve not heard anything more since then.  I’m told things can move very slowly with these things, but even if nothing comes of it, it's great, and very encouraging, to think that In the Blood was being considered for film/TV.  Around this time I also had an enquiry about adaptation rights from a publisher in Turkey, but I decided I wanted to keep all my translation rights for the time being, to keep my options open and because if I’m honest with myself I was worried about doing the wrong thing.

And then...  Yes, there’s more!  A literary agent contacted me recently and I’ll tell you all about that in part 5, which should just about bring things up to date.

Friday, 5 July 2013

My story so far - part 3.

We've caught up to the third quarter of 2011 now, and with In the Blood published, my thoughts turned to my second Jefferson Tayte book, To the Grave.  Because my agent at the time was unable to secure a deal with a mainstream publisher, I knew had to write something a little different to have any chance of success the second time around, as I couldn’t see the sense in offering more of the same when the first book hadn’t worked out.  To the Grave differs then from In the Blood in that the past narrative is told entirely from a single point of view and it‘s as much about the past story of what happened to Mena Lasseter and why, as it is about Jefferson Tayte’s struggle to find her.  Originally, I had also written a present-day narrative that tried to settle JT in Cornwall, which didn’t work very well, and I’ve since thought it would have been a big mistake as it would have limited his assignments.  When looking at the book again, I also felt that it didn’t really sit alongside In the Blood as well as it needed to, since In the Blood’s publication had set the precedence for the rest of the series: a past mystery with a present-day thriller.

So, I had about 40,000 words I could use from the past narrative, and I decided to write a whole new storyline for JT to include the thriller elements present in In the Blood.  When I look at the two versions of To the Grave now, they are like night and day and I’m very glad I didn’t stick with what I had.  When you’re working by yourself with only your instincts to guide you, I think it can be very difficult to know what to do and to feel confident about it.  I’m very glad I trusted my instincts and didn’t take the easy route of releasing the book as it was originally written.  ‘Kill your darlings’ is a phrase often cited in writing circles and that was never more true for me than when it came to editing To the Grave for publication.

It took me about eight months to get it ready, and it was released one year after In the Blood in June 2012.  During that time I really enjoyed all the reader interaction from chatting on the Kindle forums and on Twitter (and I still do), and I also built a garden office so I could feel like I was going out to work each day and would have somewhere with a proper chair and desk to sit at.  The reality has since proven a little different to my expectations though, as most months since I finished building it have been too cold, and I shudder to think what it would have cost to heat it up and keep it warm every day. So, I still write in bed and at the kitchen table, although it’s summer now and I’m happy to report that I’m in my writers’ cabin, writing this blog.  Here are some photos.

This was taken just after the build in 2011.
Summer 2013

Lovely cushion for the cabin sofa. Thanks Sarah!

The story of the little red suitcase and my serendipitous jacket cover.

If ever something was meant to be then I believe it was the cover for To the Grave.  While I’m writing a book I often wonder about the cover as I go along, and that gets more and more important as the publication date draws closer. I produce my book covers myself from photographs I take, either on research trips, as with In the Blood, or on specific cover shoots, as with To the Grave and The Last Queen of England.  For To the Grave’s cover, I decided I wanted to depict a scene from the book which involved Mena’s red suitcase and a snowy country lane.

Mena Lasseter's suitcase.

It was winter by the time I finished the first draft, but I didn’t hold much hope of getting snow right when I wanted it, so I focused on the suitcase, hoping to find one from the 1940s so it would look authentic.  This is where the serendipity part comes in because I went on eBay and there was a small, 1940s red suitcase for sale that looked just how I imagined Mena’s suitcase to be.  So I bid on it and I won the bid, which was lucky in itself.  It arrived a few days later and a day or so after that it snowed quite heavily in the night.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  It was a bright, sunny morning and at about 07:30 I ran to the lane at the bottom of the road where I live, with my camera in one hand and Mena’s suitcase in the other, and I took the shots for the cover before the snow got trampled or turned to slush.  And as if by magic To the Grave had a cover.

In part 4 I’ll let you know all about the dark turn my third book originally took, and about the challenges and concerns I faced with the rewrite - as well as a few things that got me really excited earlier this year.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Photo share - Garden Macro

Yesterday was a lovely day where I live so I took my macro lens for a walk around my garden.  I thought I'd share a few images of the damselflies that were around my pond, and one of a hover fly.

Here are a couple more that I took earlier in the year. One is a different kind of hover fly.  The other is a regular fly I caught napping in the sun on my windowsill so I was able to get very close to it.  Nice eye matrix detail.