The Boiler Identity: Part One

Steven Borne woke up in a puddle.   
   
He didn’t know his name was Steve, not until he sat up and whacked his head on the bathroom sink. As he slipped across the tiles, away from that dangerous curve of porcelain, his hand brushed against a piece of paper in his pocket. It was a cheque, and when he unfolded it he saw the name: Steven Borne.
   
(What if the cheque wasn’t his? The possibility didn’t bear consideration; his memory loss was frightening enough. Besides, he felt like a Steve. It was a good name. Dependable.)
   
The bathroom was cold, quiet. It had high, cobwebbed ceilings and tall sash windows that needed refitting. A spiderweb of cracks in the paintwork. Whoever lived here either rented or was too lazy for DIY. 
   
The built-in cupboard next to the sink was half-open, revealing a combo boiler yellowed with age, the pressure valve leaking steadily. He stood — gingerly, hand against his head — and patted himself down for other clues. His pockets were empty but one of his hands was streaked with dark red stains.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The cheque was for one thousand pounds. The handwriting was all in block capitals, angular and aggressive. Steve stared, wondered what he had been paid to do. Felt a cold sweat trickle down the back of his neck.

That’s when he saw it: a knife on the floor, spattered with blood.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Steve looked at his hand again, then straightened to look into the mirror. There were more red streaks along his neck.

He followed the trail of blood spatters to the bathroom door, wincing with every step, his head thrumming with pain. At the threshold he paused, leaning against the cold, cracked tiles to catch his breath.

The blood spatters led down a narrow, tall corridor with parquet flooring and an ornate Victorian ceiling rose above the light fitting. Shame it had been painted over so clumsily.

He lurched down the corridor, one hand against the wall, his woollen socks slipping across the polished floor. The radiator gurgled in warning as he passed.

The trail finished at an archway near the front door. Steve stepped over the blood and peered into the room beyond.

It was a kitchen. Pieces of broken glass littered the floor. Blood dripped down to the counter.

Steve did the only thing he could: he fled.

To be continued…

My Writing Workspace

Where do you write?

After 9 years of living in London — and 8 house moves — I’ve learned to adapt quickly to new environments.

I have never had the luxury of a dedicated writing nook, but all my writing spaces have had three things in common: silence, solitude, and proximity to home comforts.

I’m not one of these coffee shop or library types. I need to be at home with both laptop and notebook — but where at home depends on my mood and needs.

If I’m not home alone, I write in my bedroom. It’s the one place where solitude is guaranteed, even if it’s not the most comfortable. I alternate between sitting on my bed and — when the urge to have a nap kicks in — on the floor.

In one of my previous houses I used to switch between writing on the floor in the kitchen (to enjoy the view of the garden) and the living room leather sofa (when I felt lazy).

But in my current place I have a TABLE.

Check it out:

image

My writing space

Where do you write?

Does your writing nook needs some TLC? Check out these tips on how to create an inspirational workspace.

How to Attend A Book Launch

Yesterday I attended my first ever book launch.

The book in question — not my own, sadly! — was the dark political thriller The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor. (You may recall he ran the writing course I attended).

Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What is the correct etiquette? Must you buy the book, or not? What do you wear? Will there be alcohol?

How to Attend A Book Launch

  • To buy, or not to buy?
    While authors would certainly like everyone attending to buy the book, I doubt they expect everyone to — particularly if you’re hard up on cash and/or not interested in the genre. Don’t feel pressured into buying: the important thing is to show your support in whatever way you can.

  • Bring friends!
    The venue will look at turnout for the event, and will be more likely to invite the author back if he/she can draw a crowd. Round up your friends and/or partner and/or dog and bring them along!
    (Yes, there was a dog at the event!)

  • Promote the author online
    Another way to show your support is to promote the event online. You can tweet or blog about it, and even set up a Goodreads event for the launch. Anything that will spread the word!

  • Don’t harass the author
    Book launches are like weddings: everyone wants a piece of the action. The author will want to circulate to greet attendees, so be respectful and don’t hog his/her time.

  • Enjoy yourself!
    What you wear doesn’t matter. Take the time to meet new people, listen to the author’s reading and get your book signed. It’s not every day that you can browse a bookshop with a glass of wine in your hand…

Do you have any other tips to add to the list?

* * *

The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor

Washington_Lebor Yael Azoulay, the U.N. covert negotiator, had to kill or be killed when she went rogue in Geneva. Now back in New York, she is tasked with meeting the man at the dark heart of the American military industrial complex. Yael soon discovers a chilling conspiracy that reaches to Iran…and a dark secret from her past. The endgame is a devastating new war in the Middle East. But the closer she comes to the truth, the more she exposes herself to powerful enemies who neither forgive, nor forget.

How To Handle Criticism

He glared at me and said, “Look how you’re dressed.”

I looked down and could see only what I had seen in the mirror that morning, the suit and shirt and tie that was customary for students at the time.

“Your suit is blue,” he said. “Your shirt is blue, your tie is blue. That’s what’s wrong with your writing.”

When my ordeal was over I slunk away from Goodman’s cubicle to rethink the sameness of my writing and to learn the value of variety. It took some time for me to learn the other lesson, that a writer, shy or not, needs a tough skin, for no matter how advanced one’s experience and career, expert criticism cuts to the quick, and one learns to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

On Writing by Sol Stein

Effective criticism, however hard it is to take, will make you a better writer.

But how do you handle criticism — and how can you tell good feedback from bad?

  1. Detach
    Effective criticism is aimed at your story, not you. Don’t get defensive; stand back and evaluate the feedback logically.

  2. Experiment
    Criticism isn’t necessarily right or wrong, so it’s important to experiment with reader suggestions. It costs you nothing to make a copy of your story and tweak it as suggested. At worst, you’ll go back to the original version, but you may find you love the new version even more.

  3. Compare
    Criticism reveals a reader’s experience of your story. The more feedback you get, the better you’ll be able to sift through the comments and identify what is and isn’t working.

Dealing with criticism the right way will help your writing progress — so take a deep breath and learn to endure and to perfect, if for no other reason than to challenge the pain-maker.

How To Keep A Writer’s Notebook

I’ve previously written about the 7 benefits of keeping a writer’s notebook.

But how do you keep one? Should it be organised or a collection of scribbles? Should you separate prose from outlines, free writes from drafts?

The easiest answer is: do whatever feels right.

But I would argue that you should do whatever will best serve you later on — and that means pinpointing your needs to decide what kind of notebook you need.

A writer’s notebook is a tool; its aim is to help you with your writing. What kind of help do you need?

THE IDEAS NET
Perhaps you simply need a place to collect ideas. A place for quick lines of observation, description, snippets of scenes, character names and inspirational quotes.

There’s no structure to this kind of notebook–and no restrictions. You’ll browse through its contents at a later stage when you’re hungry for inspiration.

THE BRAIN DUMP
Julia Cameron promotes keeping morning pages — writing three stream of consciousness pages every morning to get the juices flowing. You may never use this content anywhere else; the aim is to get into the habit of writing and unblock your creativity.

If you want to increase productivity, this is the kind of notebook for you.

THE ONE-TRACK-MINDED
For Darksight, I’m keeping a project-specific notebook.

The beauty of a project-specific notebook is that is that it keeps me focused. I flip open to a page, and know that I can only write about ONE story. No procrastination allowed.

To keep myself organised, I’ve split the notebook into two halves.

The front half of the notebook contains outlines, character bios and family trees. (I’ve also seen other authors number the pages and leave space for an index, in order to easily find content as it builds up.)

The back half of my notebook is for snippets and scenes: pieces of prose as and when inspiration strikes.

Eventually the two halves will meet, but I love having all of my notes and reference points in the same notebook as my ideas, yet in some way organised too.

NONE OF THE ABOVE?
There are many more types of notebooks, from dream journals to diaries.

What kind of notebook do you keep? There is no right or wrong way – only what works for you and helps your writing.

The Importance of Proofreading

Everyone bangs on about the importance of proofreading. But why does it matter?

The most important part of an author’s job is to tell a brilliant, gripping, powerful story. No one cares about a few misplaced commas and typos! True readers can see past those minor niggles and appreciate the author’s storytelling genius… right?

Wrong.

The last couple of Kindle titles I’ve bought have contained mistakes – minor annoyances such as missing punctuation and the odd misspelled word. But every error is a distraction from the story.

An author’s job is not simply to tell a story, but to do that story justice.

How can you claim to have given your story every chance in life if you haven’t bothered to proofread it?

Everyone makes mistakes – even the big publishing houses. But indie authors have more at stake. The naysayers who think indie means unprofessional are still out there; don’t fan their flames.

So: Proofread your work. Read the story backwards paragraph by paragrah to sense check every line. (That’s my technique.)

Then get your friends/beta readers to read your work. If you can afford it, get a professional editor involved.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on MS Word’s farcical grammar/spell checker.

Once you accept that Microsoft did not invent grammar, it’s amazing how many mistakes you can find.

7 Benefits Of Keeping A Writer’s Notebook

“But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If I have been a quiet on the blog lately, it is because I’m focusing heart and soul on my next novel, Darksight.

The writing process for this project has been very different from my first novel, Above Ground, which ran as an online serial. I don’t have a weekly posting schedule to stick to. I don’t have readers debating the story’s progression.

It’s just me… and my new-found best friend: my notebook.

This is the first time I’ve kept a project-specific notebook, and I’ve come to realise that the physical process of writing is crucial to the development of a story.

I used to think that those who carried around fancy *coughmoleskincough* notebooks were pretentious. A part of me still does: I’m using a bog standard spiral-bound affair.

But my new companion has taught me that what exists in our minds is formless, mutable. Only when it has a physical permanence can we build upon it to take the story further.

Not convinced?

Seven Benefits to Keeping a Notebook

  1. Memory aid: Have you ever thought of something great, told yourself you’d write it later, only to find it has slipped away like a dream? Keep your notebook close and it’ll never happen again.

  2. Stimulate thought: Do policemen walk around without their uniforms? No! Well, you’re an author. Carrying a notebook means that a part of your mind is always subconsciously in writing mode, seeking new ideas.

  3. Evaluate progress: You can track your ideas as they develop over time, and remember how you ended up where you are now. Particularly useful for character development and back stories.

  4. Ask questions: Why does your protagonist hate chocolate? How did the submarine end up in the zoo? A notebook allows you to jot down questions – even if you don’t have the answer.

  5. Focus: Your mind can only handle so much at any one time. Dump all of your thoughts into your notebook, so you can pick and choose what to work on.

  6. Gain perspective: Having a notebook puts your ideas outside of your head. The separation will allow you to look at your thoughts from a different perspective, helping you spot flaws or plot holes.

  7. Solve problems: Sometimes your story isn’t quite working, and you can’t figure out why. Instead of moaning about it in your head, moan about it on PAPER! It’s therapeutic, and you may find the answer somewhere amidst the scribbles.

Do you keep a writing notebook? Why or why not?

The Day Is Here

SOLID MOMENTS is out now!

Woop woop woop!

Solid MomentsThe collection has also had its first ever (5 star!) review – check it out:

A collection of short stories that define fragments of life. A blind girl, a brother meeting a sister he never knew, a boy hooked on video games, a women in a loveless marriage, a soldier’s story, just to name a few. Each story was unique and touching in its own special way. I liked every story.

What I also like (and found unique and a very great concept) was at the end of the book, the author tells us what inspired her to write each story. I found that to be interesting. I often wonder how an author comes up with the ideas behind each book. Those who love short stories should read Solid Moments.
Goodreads reviewer

Order the ebook now!
Smashwords $2.80
Kindle US $3
Kindle UK £1.99
Kindle IT €2.68
Kindle DE €2.68

…did someone mention PRINT?
Amazon US $6.30
Amazon UK £4.50

Need some convincing?
Read an excerpt now or add on Goodreads for later.

Cover Reveal: Solid Moments

Solid MomentsIntroducing SOLID MOMENTS, a short story collection which will be released on January 9 2015.

I am thrilled to be revealing the cover to you today – once again designed by the inimitable MCM – and very much hope you’ll enjoy these stories.

What’s this all about?

As you may recall, in October I set myself a two months, one book challenge. While I’m running a little behind schedule, Solid Moments is the result of those two months’ work.

Collating 23 short stories of varying lengths, Solid Moments captures the precious minutes when we are most ourselves.

Add it on Goodreads – and stay tuned for updates!