Tag Archives: JK Rowling

A week in reading

Sometimes reading feels like famine or feast. I go through periods of brilliant books, then can’t find a damn thing to read anywhere (and when you consider that I work in a library…)

This last week has been a feast period. I started with two fun Star Wars books, downloaded a gripping audio book and found a bargain e-book written by a friend. So let’s start with that one.

Jane Turley is an English writer who I have come to know through G+. She’s cheerful and friendly and encouraging, and has often mentioned that she’s been working on her novel. That novel is “The Changing Room“, and she posted it online this last week. I downloaded a copy, keen to see what she’d produced, expecting – hoping – to enjoy it.

What I didn’t expect was to be totally swept away by it. The book is written from the point of view of Sandy, a wife and mum who is a great salesperson. She doesn’t love her job at the furniture store, but she likes people, and her work helps support her husband’s building company in the tough times of recession. During the course of the novel, Sandy moves from her sales job at the store to a more flexible one working from home, then finds a surprising extra source of income when a friend reveals she runs a sex chat phone service.

Throughout all this Sandy is caring for her mother, who is sliding deeper and deeper into Alzheimer’s. Sandy wants to put off taking her mother into care, but it has to happen eventually, for her own safety as much as for Sandy’s sanity.

I won’t detail everything that happens in the book, but suffice to say, I read it in two sittings. Sandy’s life is busy, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s unexpected and familiar at the same time. More than anything, this book feels REAL. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

The two Star Wars books I read this week were “Allegiance” and “Choices of One” by Timothy Zahn. Both these books are now available under the “Star Wars – Legends” banner, since Disney decided all books produced after “Return of the Jedi” were non-canon. HERESY! Ahem.

I thought I had read both these books before, but I was delighted to discover that I had made a silly mistake. “Allegiance” is the first of the two, and I had only read the second book. When I picked up “Allegiance” last time, I read the blurb and thought it sounded familiar, so I assumed I’d read it. Here’s why:

The first book deals with Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand. She’s got a mission to fulfill. A group of stormtroopers, disgusted with some Xeno-cleansing they have been ordered to take part in, accidentally kill a political officer and go on the run, fortuitously stealing a fully-equipped and disguised ship. They elect to continue as rogue stormtroopers, serving their image of the Empire, as a just bastion of stability and order. Meanwhile, three very familiar rebels are also on a mission – Han, Luke and Leia (and Chewie!) – that takes them into the same area of space.

What follows is a clever dance. Zahn introduced the character of Mara Jade in the first post ROTJ book “Heir to the Empire” and showed us then that she had not met Luke Skywalker previously, though she knew of him and hated him for killing the Emperor. By writing these prequels, Zahn risked contradicting his own work, so he has managed to manipulate the characters and events so that the stormtroopers work with both rebels and Jade, but those two groups never communicate directly with one another.

It’s not world-changing stuff, and it’s really most fun if you’re a fan of Zahn’s previous work and want to see Mara in her prime and Luke as a know-nothing proto-jedi. Read them in order, and be surprised at how you can come to admire a group of stormtroopers.

The audio book I’ve been enjoying this week is “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Or JK Rowling, as he’s also known….). Mrs Dim and I both enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, finding it mildly less grim than “The Casual Vacancy”, and “The Silkworm” is in much the same vein. Of course, since solving the high-profile Lula Landry murder, Cormoran Strike and Robin are on a much better financial footing, and Cormoran himself has finally found a new place to live, so he’s not sleeping in the office any more.

The book is slower to start, lingering more on the details of Robin and Strike’s lives, but I was perfectly happy with that. Rowling didn’t go into a great deal of detail on her principal characters in the first book, and I was interested in how things had gone for them in the intervening time. There’s still plenty to be told – mention is made several times during the book of the traumatic events that made Robin drop out of her course at university, but unless I missed something, we never found out exactly what it was. Her fiance does express surprise that she wants to become an investigator herself “after what happened”, so there’s a clue there, maybe…

I found myself making excuses to plug my headphones in so I could listen to the story, and inevitably got cross with myself after finishing it. What am I going to listen to now? I enjoyed it so much, i found it hard to understand the negative reviews it garnered on Amazon. Not many, certainly, but I think most were still looking for another Harry Potter book.

August reads: Summer distractions

It’s funny to think that two thirds of the year has gone by since I began recording my reading habits. I may have mentioned before, this is something I’ve done from time to time to see if I re-read as often as I think I do, but working at the library has skewed the results a little – I now see and have access to books every day, whereas before I was dropping into the library once or twice a week.

This month included some of the hottest weather we’ve had since coming to Canada, and also a trip to Osoyoos, where there was a good deal of sitting around on beaches and reading. It was supposed to be sitting around on beaches and writing, but it was sunny and relaxing and…..

Anyway, what books did I read this month?

The Blue BlazesChuck Wendig

This year Chuck Wendig has been producing books like some magicians produce doves or those weird sponge balls. By which I mean prolifically, and without pause or seeming effort. This is one I got my hands on, and it’s….Well, look: Chuck doesn’t write the same thing twice. His “Double Dead” vampire/zombies book is not like his “Blackbirds” paranormal/psychic horror, or his gritty realism “Shotgun Gravy”, and I suspect that none of those will be like his Dystopian Sci-fi piece “Under the Empyrean Sky”. The Blue Blazes is one of those “Hidden in your city is another side of life” books, but done in a unique Chuck Wendig style. Hell is a real place, unexpectedly encountered by city workers digging water tunnels, and, to some extent, now policed by a secret cabal of those workers. Except our protagonist is no longer part of that, but working for some bad guys. I’m explaining badly, because the best thing to do with this book is take it on faith, jump right in and keep reading, because everything is explained, everything becomes clear and the ride to get to that point is SOOOOOOO worth it.

The Affair – Lee Child

I loved the outrage of Reacher fans over the casting of Tom Hanks…excuse me, Tom CRUISE as their hero, but I hadn’t actually encountered the books before. This one slid across the library desk, and I saw it was about early Reacher adventures, though it’s number 16 in the series. I enjoyed it, but found the actual murder of several characters hard to take. Reacher is in Military Intelligence, from what I can gather, but does that give him carte blanche to execute individuals, rather than gather evidence and bring them to trial? Not sure I’ll be trying more of these…

The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi

It’s no secret I’m a big Scalzi fan, and I was delighted to find this book. It’s a little hard-going at times, since the plot isn’t straightforward, but it’s another story of Earth finding its place in the universe amongst bigger and badder races. There’s some bizarre genetic twists in the story too, and a couple of truly unexpected moments, but the resolution is typically Scalzi and very satisfying.

Screwed – Eoin Colfer

After reading (and mostly enjoying) “Plugged” last month, I was delighted to find the sequel is already available. This novel follows the continued adventures of Daniel McEvoy, now owner of his club, but still butting heads with the local mob. Worse still, the hold he had over the mob boss has just died of natural causes (well, lightning…) and now to stay alive he has to do just one little job and everything is fine. Yeah, right. As before there’s a pile of bodies and a lot of wrecked cars and knuckles before the end of the book. It’s bloody stuff, but worth the read.

Chicks Kick Butt – Rachel Caine and Kerry L Hughes

My reading list wouldn’t be complete without at least one short story collection. These were all stories with strong female protagonists, but also all belonged in the Urban Fantasy genre. As a result, many of the opening lines had me rolling my eyes, as I think I’m pretty much done with shapeshifters, half-angels, demon hunters etc etc. Until the next really good story comes along, of course. But if you like Urban Fantasy, there’s plenty to enjoy in this collection. And plenty of butt gets kicked.

The Gravity Pilot – MM Buckner

For a Sci-Fi fan, I don’t do a lot of “hard” sci fi. This book was hard going at times, but it was interesting and very different, as well as being futuristic without being too far removed from the world we live in. A kid who loves skydiving pulls off a particularly impressive dive, filming it all the way. The video hits the net and goes viral and he’s picked up by a firm that makes the equipment he uses. They are going to pay him to jump, his dream come true. But there’s a more sinister side to the parent company, and they’re using the new trend for skydiving vids to feed a more insidious tech habit. The boy has to become more than just a skydiver to rescue the girl he loves from a horrible fate.

Fighting to Survive – Rihannon Frater

The second in the series “As the World Dies”, the first of which was part of last month’s reading (The First Days). The group inside the Fort are trying to take control of the big hotel, to give themselves living space, but it’s still infested with zombies. Clearing out the hotel will cost them lives, but give them a chance to start living, not just surviving. Which leads on to….

Siege – Rihannon Frater

…The third book! The discovery of another major group of survivors should be a good thing, but the leaders of the other group are flat-out insane, talking about turning the womenfolk into breeders and trying to tell Texans that Big Government is the only solution to the Zombie Apocalypse. Might as well try and take their guns away. Be prepared for more death and undead moaning, as the Good Guys in the Fort have to defend themselves against the largest Zombie Horde ever, as well as rescue old friends and new from the doomed Shopping Mall group.

The Fault in our stars – John Green

In case you don’t know, or in case your library doesn’t do this, at BPL we have the “Speed Reads”. These are new, popular books that cannot be reserved, can only be taken out for one week and cannot be renewed. There’s a dollar a day fine for being overdue. This means that some books (Like “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, which has 157 holds on 25 copies – at 28 days per person…) can be found on the shelf, read and returned before the hold on the regular copy would ever reach the top of the list.

I mention this because that’s where I found this book. I might never have considered it otherwise. It’s a strange book to recommend, because it’s the story of a girl with cancer, who meets a boy who had cancer in a cancer support group. They fall in love and travel to meet an author the girl has idolised for years. That sounds lovely, but this book will not just tug on your heartstrings, it attaches your heartstrings to a moving truck, then invites a family of gorillas to play on your heartstrings like a jungle gym. I was a complete mess by the end of it, but very glad I read it.

The Redemption of Althalus – David and Leigh Eddings

I’m skipping the picture, because The Redemption of Althalus got its own mini-review in the previous post. If you loved “The Belgariad” and read all of “The Mallorean”, then “Belgarath” and “Polgara” and STILL didn’t feel like you’d had enough, try this book. It’s in the same style, has a central character who could be Belgarath and covers much of the same ground.

Only Superhuman – Christopher L Bennett

I saw this book go by twice at work before I got hold of it. Yes, I judge a book by its cover, that’s what they’re FOR. This one does exactly what it says on the tin, regaling the reader with the adventures (and origin story) of a superhuman flame-haired temptress who does everything with passion and strength. Everything.

There’s a lot of political stuff, and lots of space-habitat physics, which are all nicely explained in the appendices at the end, which I didn’t notice until I had finished reading the story. To be fair, I understood enough to follow the track of events and know who to cheer for, and I was satisfied with the way the story played out. I wish I’d paid more attention to the tiny dateline at the start of each chapter, though, because the first time we plunged into history to explore the central character’s backstory, I was completely non-plussed. Maybe I’m just stupid.*

So, that’s my reading for August. As ever, I’ve skipped over the audio books I’m enjoying, though one of those was JK Rowling’s…excuse me, ROBERT GALBRAITH’S “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. It’s an excellent detective story, and worth checking out whatever your opinion of the author, the story behind the release or whatever. Next month the kids are back to school, I have more library shifts and I have to finish writing my own novella. It’s nearly done now, which means it’s nearly time to do the editing and design the cover etc etc.  I’ll also be on the lookout for beta-readers, so any volunteers, either email me or leave contact details in the comments below.

As usual, I’ve stolen all the illustrations for this piece from Amazon, but on the other hand, I’ve also supplied links for all the books mentioned, so it’s all free publicity for them. I’m nice that way. If you’d rather I used YOUR pictures for something, leave your contact details in the comments below.

*This is a popular theory in my house.

Writing for profit…

Ask yourself - are you in it for the booty?

Ask yourself – are you in it for the booty?

Ransom notes.

That’s how the old joke goes: “What kind of writing makes the most money?”

“Ransom notes”

The truth is that no one really knows the secret to making piles of cash from writing. When Bloomsbury were accused of somehow influencing people to buy the Harry Potter series, they were openly scornful. One spokesperson said “Really, if we could do that for JK Rowling, we’d do it for all our authors”. Of course they would, it’s their financial success too.

One thing a lot of writers agree on, though, is that setting out to write something because other things like it are selling is a huge mistake. For one thing, by the time you’ve completed YOUR dinosaurs-on-a-spaceship novel, everyone might be rushing out to buy Zombies on a Bobsled fiction instead. For another, it’s hard to write well when you’re not interested in your subject matter, and if you’re writing it with dollar signs in your eyes, then you’re not interested in the story and the characters, you’re interested in the money.

There’s one crucial point to make here, though. You CAN write books with the intention of making money. In that situation, you are organised about the way you write. You work to a schedule, you have an overall plan for the book you’re writing and where it’s going. You negotiate with an editor and a cover artist to produce the best version of your book that you possibly can. You create a network of friends and writers and readers who read and review for you, and who spread the word about the completed book. You keep that book hovering in everyone’s consciousness while, in all probability, you are  writing the next book. And you keep going, even though those first two, three or four books have not catapulted you into the ranks of the mega-rich.

The sections above are dealing with fiction writing of course. Writing non-fiction is a different thing altogether, and it’s a matter of finding a subject in which you are something of an expert, and tailoring the book to your experiences OR having access to other experts who will contribute to the book. But unless you’re working from a commission for the book, you’re still going to be the one pounding the virtual pavement and banging the drum for people to buy it.

The other way to make money from writing (WARNING, CYNICISM AHEAD!) is to write books on how to make money writing books. Do a little research, and you will be amazed, staggered and eventually a little sickened by the number of people telling you how to write best selling books, when the only best selling books THEY have written were about…writing best-selling books.

I believe that your first reason for writing, the first person you should be trying to impress, is YOU. Write because you must, because that story demands to be told. If it’s good, or if it can BECOME good with some polish and judicious surgery, then pursue it. Get help, take a deep breath, take advice and take the plunge.

DON’T rush out and write a story about sparkly vampires.*

I’m wondering if I wrote this piece because my latest book is a zombie novel, and I’m worried that I’ve not just missed the boat on that genre, but that the boat has sunk and sent a Tsunami towards the shore that is threatening the town…. Nonetheless, I have to see the story through, and since I’m enjoying it and people have liked the preview (available in “Troubled Souls“) I’ll self-publish again.

 

 

 

*This should be generally considered as good advice regardless.

One-off Book review: “IT” by Stephen King

Although this would normally come up under “June Reading” in a few weeks time, I wanted to give this book its own review. Many of the books I review each month come from the library, and they are fleeting visitors. They’re read, enjoyed (for the most part) and returned.

But there’s  another class of book we all know about. The books you read and can’t let go. The ones you see in a second-hand bookshop, perhaps years after the initial reading and you just HAVE to buy. Books that you revisit like old friends, finding comfort in the familiarity, still loving the twists of the plot even though you can’t possibly be surprised by it.

After so many house moves, the books we keep on our bookshelves are all old friends. We’ve whittled down our collection again and again, and now only keep the ones we can’t imagine being without. “It” is one of those books.

(I need to point out that Mrs Dim is not a big fan of this book.)

For those who don’t know, “It” is the story of a group of childhood friends. As children, they banded together to fight an evil monster living beneath their town. They believed it was destroyed, but made a pact to return and fight again if the creature came back. Thirty years on, they are called to make good on their oath, and must go up against the creature again. But now they are adults, do they have the power they had as children?

There are many reasons why I like this book, and probably as many reasons why some people will NEVER like this book. The childhood sections are set in 1957/8, in Maine. That’s nearly twenty years before I was born, and a few thousand miles from where I spent my childhood, but the kids in the story feel familiar. They love the music of the time (secretly dancing and singing along to Rock ‘n Roll, despite the disapproval of their parents) and they play imaginative games in a wasteland area of the town called “The Barrens”. It’s not quite the life I lead in rural Hampshire in the early 80’s, but there are echoes.

The other big attraction of the book is the way it’s written. Rather than write the whole thing chronologically, beginning with the children in 1957/8, following their adventures along, and then moving ahead to the 1980’s, King chooses to mix in the two timelines. He does this because the older characters don’t remember their childhood years – not until they get the phone call from the one member of the gang who stayed in the town. All the others left and became successful in some way, but one – Mike Hanlon – stayed on and became the town Librarian. Mike remembers almost everything that happened while they were children, but the others only begin to remember when they arrive in Derry. As they remember, King shows us their memories of the events, so that the climax of both battles against It take place simultaneously – the children in 1958, and the adults thirty years later.

I’m sure the name of Stephen King means people are waiting for the horror. Well, yes, there’s plenty of that. It is a kind of ancient Boggart, to steal briefly from JK Rowling – It reaches into your mind and takes what you most fear, then becomes that thing…with a few twists of Its own. If you don’t like blood and gore, and the odd scare along the way, you won’t get along with this book, but I think that’s a pity, because Stephen King evokes a very real sense of what it’s like to be a child. There are some wonderful sections when the kids are together – even in the middle of a titanic struggle to fight this evil thing that adults can’t see, don’t believe in, they still play. They’re still children.

I’m sure there are many rebuttals that could be offered to balance up this review. Is the story ultimately satisfying? Does it feel believable (for a given value of “believable”, seeing as there’s monsters etc etc)? Is it a “good” book? Those questions are probably valid, but in this instance I’m playing my Joker and saying “I don’t care”. My love for this book may be irrational, may not be universally shared, and it may even be possible to prove it’s misplaced, but I’ll love it regardless. In a world where people get tattoos of text from Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, I think it’s entirely permissable to love a book beyond reason.

For the love of Story

Or Why I think “Wreck it Ralph” is a great movie

Really, what’s not to like?

Saturday night has become Family Movie night. Some might imagine a wonderful affair of  shared enjoyment, laughter and love abounding amidst snack foods and good entertainment.

Well, no. We’re a family of five, and the Weasels are each three years apart, so getting a consensus on a film to watch is nigh-on impossible. Lots of deals get made, trading a vote on this week’s movie for a veto on the next one etc etc. It was by this system that we settled on Wreck it Ralph for this last Saturday. Mrs Dim heaved a dramatic sigh and recited her mantra about computer animation being ubiquitous and having run its course. The younger Weasels squealed that they had been waiting AGES to see this movie, and Eldest shrugged in resignation and said “As long as it isn’t Twilight, then, whatever.”

Me? I like animated movies. There are some clunkers out there, but Pixar raised the bar pretty high and everyone seems to be trying to beat them at their own game. I was interested in seeing Wreck it Ralph because I’d begun a screenplay many years ago called “Twist Stiffly goes to Gamesworld” about a bunch of computer game characters abandoning a pc that had been infected with a virus and escaping to an online gameshub that was always on. I never got beyond the preliminary planning, but was pleased to see someone had taken up a variant of the idea and run with it.*

Not everyone will love this movie. Some people won’t like the characters, or the environment, or the silliness of the story. Some people won’t like the stars chosen to voice the characters, and some people will object because their favourite video game character has not ben given a guest spot. These are all valid reasons for not liking the movie.

But I contend that it’s a beautifully CRAFTED story.

There’s an old saying that if there’s a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act, it has to go off in the third act. Ralph does this with style. Tiny snippets of information come back again and again to be screamingly relevant. For example, when Ralph first expresses his dissatisfaction with his lot in life, other characters say “You’re not going Turbo, are you?” We have to wait a few scenes for this reference to be explained, but it turns out Turbo was a character who jumped into another arcade game, causing such problems that both his game and the new one were scrapped – the ultimate horror for characters. This seemed sufficient for the plot, because we now knew there could be serious consequences for all the characters in Ralph’s game if he didn’t return to the right machine in time. We also knew that one rogue character could wreck another game. But in a startling coup-de-grace, that little story of Turbo comes in very important to the plot in the final act.

In another example, we’re told in the game “Hero’s Duty” that the Psybugs become what they eat. This is used as a gag when a bug eats Ralph’s gun and becomes a gunbug, blazing away with two gun arms while chasing Ralph. Later we’re reminded of this fact when the escaped Psybug eats some candy in “Sugar Rush” and becomes a candybug. Once more, we think the idea is done, when it becomes a terrifying twist in the final act.

Not my joke, but I like it...

Not my joke, but I like it…

This resonance of themes and props throughout a story is something JK Rowling did particularly well in Harry Potter. Remember “The Chamber of Secrets”? Harry goes astray when using Floo powder for the first time and ends up in Bourgin and Burke’s shop. He hides in a cabinet. Four books later, that same cabinet is used by another character to deadly effect. In the fifth book, the main characters are sorting out items that are left in Sirius’ house and amongst them is a locket no one can open. That turns out to be the Horcrux Harry and Dumbledore go looking for in the next book. The fact that the Sword of Gryffindor can be pulled from the Sorting Hat (first shown in book 2) is used again in book 7 when Neville draws out the sword to kill Nagini.

This all underlines the importance of two factors: First, plan your story. Write it out, then look for areas than can be linked, for parts of the story that resonate together.

Second, KNOW your story. The main character is a carpenter? Why? If the answer is a shrug, then LOOK AT THE STORY AGAIN! In “Inkheart”, the main character is a bookbinder, and the story is all about books and words. Would the story have worked if the character were a sheet metal worker who just liked to read stories to his daughter at night? Maybe, but something would have been lost. Think of “Liar Liar”: Jim Carrey’s character has to tell the truth BUT HE’S A LAWYER! If he was just a man who didn’t keep his promises, that would be significant, and perhaps his son would have made the same wish, but would it have complicated things so much? A lawyer is a trade associated (rightly or wrongly) with lies.

When they’re done well, these moments make us gasp. We say “Oh, OF COURSE! THAT’S why that was there! Why didn’t I see it?”

Writers live for those moments.

 

What revelatory moments have stayed with you from books and movies?

 

 

*Note: I’m not going to sue “them” for “stealing my idea”. You can’t copyright ideas, nor should you be able to. Had I written the entire thing and submitted it to the producers of Ralph, and they had turned it down and THEN written Ralph…Well, even then I’d be hard pressed to prove it was MY idea that lead to the movie. There are millions of writers in the world, and many of them will be struck by similar ideas at the same time. Stealing ideas almost never happens. It doesn’t need to. Most writers don’t have time to write down all their own ideas, let alone start writing down other people’s stories….

When is writing right?

Recently I’ve been receiving some inspirational blog posts through my email. They’re from a writer who takes a very hard line about the business. I’m not going to quote this person directly, or make reference to their website, but the upshot is that they believe that being a writer, if you’re doing it properly, is the centre of your life. That anything else needs to take second place to putting your words down on…well, paper, screen, whatever you use.

From a certain point of view, I can agree with that. If you’re using your skill as a storyteller to write fiction for sale, or your ability to create interesting features to generate income from magazines, then yes, it’s a business. Like any business, you need to take it seriously and put in the effort it deserves. If you do the washing and ironing, then clear away the dishes and do the grocery shopping before you can start the day’s writing, you’re already behind. I get that.

Where it gets problematical (although I think that’s a made-up word) is that not everybody is in that position. I’m inspired by the example of James Moran, who wrote the feature films “Severance” and ‘Cockneys vs Zombies”. He held down a full-time job, but still wrote over twenty drafts of his first script because getting it exactly right and as good as he could was essential to realising his dream of being a screenwriter. He mentions in his blog that he would come in from work and start writing, he would write at weekends and at night because this was what he wanted.

Our favourite excuse, as writers, for NOT writing is : “I don’t have time”. Very few of the many, many writers in the world have writing as a full-time employment – by which I mean, the only thing they have to do during their work day. I’m luckier than a lot of people – my wife has a good job, and I only have to get the kids to school, then keep the house clean and running until they get back. The rest of my time can be spent writing. Except that the writing doesn’t directly add to the household income, so I actively pursue work that isn’t writing during the time I have FOR writing so that I can earn enough to allow me to remain at home and….not…write. Which brings me back to those emails.

There’s enough guilt in my life, thanks. I feel guilty that I can’t spend more time with my children. They have volunteer readers in their classes, they have adult volunteers on their field trips. I’m rarely involved with any of that. My house could do with more care and attention, but that would take some research and skills that take time to develop. My dog should have two walks every day, not just some days. My friends back in the UK should hear from me when things are ok, as well as when I’m grumpy, and my parents would probably like an actual letter to go with the emails. Maybe my family would appreciate me learning another meal to add to the seven I know how to cook. So, while I agree with the thrust of these emails – “If you’re a writer, then you should be WRITING! Writing is the most important thing in your day, don’t be ashamed of it!” I will still put family first. I know that means I probably won’t rise to the top of my profession, that I won’t outsell J.K. Rowling (and, given that I’m a playwright, that’s not surprising) but that’s a choice I’m making.

The sour grapes side of me wants to point out that the individual sending me these emails doesn’t have kids, and is “returning to the writing business”. They make their living as a writer by telling other people how to be a writer and working as a “Social Media Writer” for a large company. I don’t know what a Social Media Writer is. It might be a person who writes about Social Media, or it might be a person who writes about that large company ON social media. I don’t know. Either way, it’s not my place to judge their worth in telling ME how to be a better writer. Like I said, the core of their message is fair enough. Whether I want to take that advice to heart is up to me.

So here’s what I say about when to write. Write what you want to write, when you want to write. Write stuff you love writing, stuff you like to read. Write the stories that unroll in your head and drive you to your desk because they won’t lie still till they’re pinned to the page. Write because you have to.

You’ll be a writer because you write. If you want to be a rich writer, or to earn any money from writing, well…Then you need the discipline, the time and probably the guilt so that you FIND the time, no matter what else is going on in your life.

Disclaimer: Despite this appearing on the internet and probably leaving enough clues for a determined researcher, this post is not an attack on the person who is sending out the emails mentioned. They are entirely entitled to do what they’re doing, and I admire their standpoint even if I’m not standing there myself. If I really get upset by the emails, I have the option to remove myself from the mailing list and will do so if it becomes necessary. If anyone wishes to rush to the defence of this individual, please do so with courtesy and good spelling. If the individual feels persecuted and wishes me to retract any or all of the above post, I’d be happy to discuss it via email.

10 reasons why being a writer ROCKS!

Forget the Hemingway image of the writer, bearded, drunk and slumped over a typewriter filled with cigarette butts. Being a writer need not equate to misery, alcohol abuse and blinding headaches. Being a writer ROCKS, and here’s why:

  1. You can do it all the time. Don’t tell me that the happiest Chartered Accountant or Quantity Surveyor can do their job when they’re not at work. That accountant needs his spreadsheets and accounts, and that Quantity Surveyor needs…er…quantities of stuff to survey. But writers are writing ALL THE TIME. We walk around and our characters tell their stories in our heads. Walking the dog, we are striding the worlds we create. The part of the job that is done at the keyboard is only the culmination of the process. How cool is that?
  2. Your job, your rules. Yes, there are guidelines about plot, and character development, and first person viewpoints and on and on. But the truth is, those rules only apply until they don’t. You can use them to tell your story, but if they aren’t getting the job done, you can cast them aside and try something different. That doesn’t go so well, for example, in a Pharmacy…”Ah, Mrs Williams? Still getting those headaches? Try this, I just sort of bunged a load of stuff together in a pot….”
  3. Reading. You don’t HAVE to love reading to be a writer, but let’s face it, you probably do. To write, you have to love words, and reading is a ready source. But look, it’s not like you have to fill your mental fuel tank with a fresh supply of words in order to create your own sparkling prose…Really, you don’t. But reading stretches your imagination, reading good books gives you hints and tips subconsciously that you will use later. It’s not plagiarism, it’s style.
  4. It’s the best time to do it. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, being a writer is not the solitary depressing experience it once was. There are hundreds of online communities out there. Through social networks like G+ you can meet and talk with other writers of all levels. You may not get face time with JK Rowling or Tom Clancy, but with patience, manners and sensible commenting, you can get in touch with published authors (like John Scalzi, or Chuck Wendig).
  5. The gates are open. Now, this may be a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact is, right now you can be published only minutes after finishing your draft. The new ebook publishing programs mean that you don’t need an agent or a lucky meeting to guarantee your book is published, but beware: Just because you can publish instantly doesn’t mean you should. Check your draft, get it read, give it a break and read it again yourself. Get a good artist to design your cover. Unless you’re just in it for the cachet of dropping “I published my book the other day” into conversations…..
  6. You are part of an immense heritage. Storytelling may not be the Oldest Profession, but it goes back millennia. Watch how young children crave stories, how adults rush to buy the latest recommendations. Stories speak to all of us, fill a need that everyone feels from time to time. YOU can fill that need, and be one with Plato, Homer (not the cartoon, get a grip) Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickens. And yes, Tom Clancy, ok.
  7.  (Via Jenn Thorson, after an appeal for help) “I love how transporting it can be when the writing is going well and everything around me disappears; the story and I are alone as the scene unfolds. It’s what Stephen King, I believe, has called “falling through the page.” It feels like the perfect balance of work and amusement, and time loses meaning. It’s a great feeling to be that at-one with creativity.”
  8. (Via Amy Knepper) “Writing rocks because I can play with my imaginary friends, and kill them if they make me angry.”
  9. (Via Laurie Laliberte) “Chicks dig writers
  10. The big one. Because everyone, at some time in their life, wants to be a writer. Everyone dreams of holding a book in their hands and saying “This is mine, these words are mine. I wrote this.” People may dream of it for the success that comes to writers like JK Rowling, or the fame that clings to Salinger despite comparatively little output, or just to see something they made in a shop window. But everyone has dreamed of being a writer, and if you write, then you ARE a writer. And that rocks.