Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Don't Attack The Customer

by Matt Lynn
I’m not one of those writers who worries about digital books, the decline of the local bookshop, or the closure of libraries. We are story-tellers, and there has always been a demand for stories, and an enthusiastic audience for them. How they are delivered – round a campfire, on a printed page, or on an electronic screen – doesn’t make much difference.

What does worry me is that the publishing industry might repeat some of the mistakes of the music business.

In The Bookseller today, Richard Mollet, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, is demanding that the Internet Service Providers should be clamping down on piracy.

This is the wrong route.

With my other hat as a business journalist on I’ve written a lot about the decline of the big music labels. What they got wrong was trying to sue their main customers – the music fans who download music. But a business can’t constantly be treating its customers like criminals. It doesn’t make any sense.

Interestingly, the music business is in pretty good shape. Total spending on music, when you add up CD sales, licensing fees, downloads and live performance earnings, has been going up over the last few years. It’s just the old music labels that have been struggling – largely because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with a changed market.

I hope the publishers don’t end up going down the same road.

The story-telling business is in good shape, even if the delivery changes. But attacking our customers is not the right way to respond.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Pathetic Fallacy

by Leigh Russell,

When I was a student (a very long time ago) I remember learning about the Pathetic Fallacy in literature, where natural events reflect human experience. It seemed to involve a lot of bad weather: Lear, a former king, naked in the tempest; storms at times of emotional turmoil in Thomas Hardy.

I was thinking about the pathetic fallacy while driving into work this morning in ominous weather. I don’t enjoy driving in the best of conditions and at this time of year I always start to feel a little nervous. What if the roads are icy and my car skids...?

This kind of anxiety may be pathetic in a different way, but being a worrier probably feeds into my writing and I wonder if a tendency for Shakespeare’s “horrible imaginings” goes with the territory of being a crime writer. Readers often ask how I think up plots for my crime novels and the answer is simple; I start with a ‘What if...?’ question, imagining a worst case scenario.
Let’s say you work in an office. One evening you are the last person to leave. As you are going to bed you recall leaving your mobile phone on your desk at work, so you go in early next morning to arrive before any of your colleagues. Entering the office you discover a dead woman sprawled on the floor. Only a few people have keys to your office, and no one admits to knowing the murder victim.

This raises a number of questions. Who is the unknown victim? Why was she killed? You were last out at the end of the day and first in next morning - does suspicion fall on you? How do the police find the killer? If you write answers to the many questions raised by the body in the office, a basic crime thriller will virtually write itself.

Of course it’s not that simple. It takes a certain type of imagination to develop a starting point like this into a plausible novel with intriguing plot twists and convincing characters, and this requires a lot of thought. So life as an author can be hard work. Following the writing itself comes the need for promotion, and success has imposed increasing demands on my time until there are times when I watch my life slipping out of control, like a car on an icy road...

As for the road ahead, if anyone had predicted sixteen months ago that I would have two bestsellers to my name by now, one of them shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, I would have laughed. So I’m taking my journey as an author one day at a time. Who knows what the future holds?

At least my car didn’t skid this morning - although if there was any ice on the road I wouldn’t have seen it through the dense fog up ahead...

Leigh Russell is the author of the Geraldine Steel series
CUT SHORT (2009)
DEAD END (2011)

Friday, 26 November 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

A crisis of confidence is something most writers are familiar with. Projects - that we pour hours of time into, burn oil over and ponder even when we should be focussed on the more practical demands of life - can sometimes have a sneaky knack of appearing worthless in the wrong light.

Light is the operative word here as it's usually a certain time of day that it happens. It's like that moment when too much sunshine pours into a room and makes everything look a bit tired and in need of a spring clean.

Everyone has their low ebb moment not only during the course of creating an entire project but every day of that process. It obviously depends what your writing timetable is. I usually experience mine at about three in the afternoon. At that point, everything I've written looks a bit tired and in need of a spring clean - or a delete button.

Even though I don't want to, it's at this point that I take a break. As most writers know, there aren't ever enough hours in the day to achieve everything you want and taking yourself away from a project seems like time wasted. But it's worth it because nothing constructive can be achieved when you've stopped seeing the words for the trees.

I usually re-examine everything first thing in the morning - my best time - and often find my reservations aren't as harshly felt as my tired mind convinced me they were.

It doesn't always work. Often the work does need a kick in the pants but at least I have some new reserves of energy to do it.

So, at three today, I think I'll go for a walk and think of something besides my plot and characters. Yeah, right.

Win Richard's book by coming up with the name of a Christmas serial killer at: http://www.richardjayparker.com/ (Bottom Of Home Page)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Celebrating Ourselves...

by Matt Lynn

It was National Freelancer’s Day yesterday, although not very surprisingly I missed it. Indeed, I suspect that all the freelancers out there missed it: partly because they are always very, very busy with other stuff; and partly because, by definition, we all work by ourselves, so we aren’t around other freelancers, who might remind us to celebrate.

Still, the Telegraph had an interesting survey to mark the occasion. It found that freelancers were on the whole happier than people who had jobs. Not very surprising, really. If you consider that most jobs consist of some idiot shouting at you all morning, then getting a terrible, over-priced sandwich that tastes like mouldy cardboard, with some bloke you’re only friends with because he happens to sit next to you, and then spending the afternoon in a crushingly dull meeting, it is surprising that us freelancers aren’t even further in the lead.

Its ten years now since I had a job in an office, so I’ve spent a decade now sitting around at home writing stuff. It takes a lot of discipline, of course. You have to get up in the morning and crack on with your work. You need to set yourself targets and deadlines.

And it has it ups and downs. But when you hit a down it is worth remembering that you are a lot happier than you would be in an office.

In fact next year I might even celebrate National Freelancers Day – possibly with a plate of foie gras and a glass of Bordeaux at my desk.

Friday, 19 November 2010

When Do I Give Up?

By Richard Jay Parker

I can't claim any credit for this week's topic. I found an interesting forum asking agents as well as writers how many negative responses it would take before they give up on a project.

Have a look HERE

The immediate answer is, of course, never.

There are many stories about writers having their material rejected myriad times before it gets published and is a major hit. Frederick Forsyth's DAY OF THE JACKAL is the classic example of this. It was rejected fifty thousand times before it was published. OK - I may be exaggerating. Fifty is the official figure.

Then there's the tragic story about one of my favourite books A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES which John Kennedy Toole's mother managed to get published after he took his life. His suicide was in part due to his failure to get it into print.

As far as I'm concerned, if a writer feels absolutely passionate about a project they should continue to submit and hope it finds that agent or publisher who feels the same way and wants to champion it.

Belief in your own talent in the face of rejection is one of the most difficult things a writer has to deal with.

But this gruelling process has to be tempered by a big dose of realism. Having slaved over and polished a cherished manuscript for so long it's easy to get obsessed by a piece of work. If a writer receives constructive rejections then taking the comments on board is a step past the 'standing on a rock howling into the wind' stage.

It's a commericial world out there and, although you should never compromise your goals as a writer, it's always good to familiarise yourself with the territory your work will have to traverse. Research is a good way to fill those days when you're waiting for responses.

More importantly, it's vital to always be writing because that next project may well supplant the last one.

It brings us back to that concept of nothing we write ever being a waste of time. If we didn't pen the last project then we would never have used that experience to lay the foundation for the one we might have success with.

Win a copy of Richard's book at http://www.richardjayparker.com/ (foot of home page)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Advice For Budding Thriller Writers

by Matt Lynn

I’m still really enjoying the round-table discussions hosted over at the International Thriller Writers website. This week, they are discussing the one piece of advice you would give budding thriller writers.

So what would my advice be?

First, learn about structure. Thrillers are very mechanical. They need great engineering. They are a bit like cars in that respect. They can look beautiful, but if they don’t work properly, then what’s the point (unless it’s a Jag, of course, in which case we’ll overlook the fact it doesn’t work).

So the most important thing you need to do is learn about structure and pace and plot. For my money, the best way to do that is to take an early Frederick Forsyth novel, and go through it again and again until you have learned absolutely what he is doing. Then do it for yourself. It’s a bit like taking a BMW apart, then re-assembling. If you do that enough times, you will figure out how to make a car. Same with a thriller.

Next, get with the times. Thrillers are stories of events. They reflect the world around them. So don’t write an old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller. Think about private military corporations (my subject). Or financial conspiracies. Or Iran. Or piracy. But make it something now and fresh we haven’t read about before.

Okay, that’s two pieces of advice – but both valuable.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Co-Incidences in Fiction...

by Leigh Russell

On the spur of the moment we once went to visit a public gardens that turned out to be closed. Having travelled so far, we decided to drive on to the nearest town. As we drew level with a sign welcoming us to Milton Keynes, my mobile rang. My daughter was calling because she was bored waiting for a train in... Milton Keynes. I can’t recall the purpose of her visit, but like ours it was an unprecedented trip to Milton Keynes and neither of us had known of the other’s visit beforehand. It was fluke that we chanced to be there at the same time, and discovered we were there together before either of us left.

I could tell you a few more coincidences that have happened to me - although one is so strange that I wouldn’t relate it here for fear of being dismissed as an advocate of impossible supernatural events. It really was that unlikely.I’m not alone in this. Most people can recall at least one astonishing coincidence they have experienced. How often do we introduce anecdotes with the words, ‘You’ll never believe what happened!’ But of course we do believe the story that follows, because it’s true.

So how is it that real life can throw up such coincidences with impunity when my editor warned me early on to avoid coincidences in my writing because ‘Readers don’t like them’?When writing my crime thrillers I try to make them believable, researching small details to create a convincing illusion so my readers ‘buy into’ the world of my book. I’m pleased to come across epithets like ‘plausible’ and ‘authentic’ when reviewers comment on my fictional forensic science. (It should be authentic. My advisers range from an experience medical practitioner to a professor of forensic medicine, and even the human remains department of the Natural History Museum!)

And I spend time working out how my detective can come across an essential piece of evidence without any unlikely coincidences which my readers might find unbelievable.So it annoys me intensely that real life can be completely absurd and ridiculously far-fetched when we authors can’t take similar liberties. It’s just not fair!

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Wonder Of Blogs

By Richard Jay Parker

I've always worked to deadlines. A large proportion of writers generate material to them whether they be self imposed or enforced by a publisher, producer etc. A deadline is like a net around all those butterflies that you could quite happily allow to flutter about your head indefinitely

I'm usually a pretty ruthless, often unrealistic taskmaster. Writing is one of those processes that seems to happen in spite of everything else. I'm lucky to be able to devote daytime hours to it as well as cramming extra into the evenings (what a thorough party animal I am) but there'a always that gauntlet of reality to contend with before you can sit down to service your imagination.

It can be pretty frustrating at times - everything's in your head but you know that there's an assault course of mundane chores to tick off before you can open the tap.

It's during that time when deadlines are bad things. Blood pressure and clock hands accelerate and the work you wanted to have done by today becomes work you think you'll have done by next week.

I'm currently in that very position. I wanted to have a fine edit of a manuscript completed by today but know it's not going to happen. So what the hell am I doing writing this blog when I could be making time?

That's the beauty of writing a blog. It's like turning off the the treadmill for five minutes and collecting your thoughts.

I'll finish my edit next week because an extra day or two really isn't going to make any difference in the scheme of things. I also know my own deadlines are pretty merciless so I've got some leeway.

It's not always the case when you have people breathing down your neck but being frantic is the worst state of mind to be in when you need to focus.

Half an hour on a blog is like a deep breath. Just writing this has made me feel better.

Back to it now.

Maybe I can finish by today...

Win a copy of Richard's novel in time for Christmas by clicking the link at the bottom of the home page http://www.richardjayparker.com/

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

International Thriller Writers

by Matt Lynn

The International Thriller Writers website has started a series of online roundtable discussions about thriller writing – sort of like a conference panel, bit without all the travelling.
I’ll be taking part in a couple of the upcoming discussions. But I think the first in the series looks really good: ‘Why Do You Read/Write Thrillers’.
It’s a fascinating issue for any writer. I mean, obviously I love thrillers. But I don’t only love thrillers. There are loads of different kinds of books I really enjoy, and I would be just as happy to write.
In the discussion, I think Todd Ritter gives the best answer when he says: “Reading a thriller that makes my pulse race takes me briefly into a world of danger and fear and excitement that I won’t experience in real life. It’s an escape and, well, a thrill”.
Still, that is more of an answer to the question of why you read thrillers rather than why you write them.
For me, I think the answer is that the thriller is such a great canvass. They are widescreen stories. They have action, characters, jokes and drama, but they can also take in politics, economics, war, technology, and international relations. They are very outwards looking books, which weave stories out of current events, but which also, at their best, are timeless. Other genres tend to be much smaller scale, rooted in one place or time.
But I guess every thriller writer will have a different answer to the question.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Welcome To Our New Members

The Curzon Group has not just one but three new members. James Barrington is the author of best-selling thrilers such as 'Foxbat' and 'Overkill'. James Becker is the writer who has been making a splash with books such as 'The First Apostle' and 'The Messiah Secret'. And Max Adams made his debut last year with the first in a series of WWII thrillers called 'To Do or Die'. All three of them will be regularly blogging here....

Why Libraries Matter....

by Leigh Russell

Recent figures show the number of active library users has dropped by over 2% while visits to library websites increased by almost 50 per cent. In 1849 William Ewart introduced a Public Libraries Bill. Conservatives objected, concerned that the middle and upper classes would pay for a service used only by the working classes. One MP announced "people have too much knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage.” Nevertheless the Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850.The 19th century MP who complained that reading makes people more difficult to control had a point. Setting aside powerful arguments about the arts, culture and the advancement of knowledge, reading is essential if we are to have a population able to think for themselves. Because reading gives the individual access to all the information (and misinformation) in the world.

Over the past four centuries we have established a largely literate society in the West but literacy is losing its appeal. Today’s children feed their imaginations playing interactive games where their parents’ need for stories was supplied by books. We have the technology to move towards a largely post-literate society. All the text we need can be recorded with voice activated software for a listening audience rather than a readership. It’s easier. Already we access much of our knowledge from the television or online, and we see more stories on the small screen than the page.

But watching or listening to stories or information is a very different experience to reading. Apart from the argument about using imagination, when you’re reading you can speed up, slow down, pause to reflect, reread and refer back to an earlier passage. There is no one else’s voice to influence or interpret the meaning of the words for you. As reader you control how you read and interpret the words for yourself.All of this makes books not only valuable but “an essential part of having and educated and literate population” as Wikipedia puts it. So it is worrying that libraries are not mobbed by people wanting to access free books.When Britain’s first public lending library opened in Manchester in the mid 19th century it was seen as an event so significant for literacy and democracy that Dickens visited, saying this was an institution “knowing no sect, no party and no distinction; nothing but the public want and the public good.”

He would surely be turning in his grave to know that libraries are losing their popularity. If enough people lose interest in books, we risk losing our independent access to knowledge and even our ability to think for ourselves.

Friday, 5 November 2010


By Richard Jay Parker
I'm writing this as I write everything - alone. I'm not tragic (although I'm sure some would disagree) and I'm not a misanthrope but I do always have to work in solitude.

Other writers can work at their laptop in a coffee shop, with their family screaming around them and in the busy office when the boss isn't looking. This is often out of necessity but some writers actually thrive on having frenetic activity around them.

A friend of mine writes with heavy metal blasting throughout the creative process. I just couldn't do it. I need quiet - it's the only way I can hear the minutes zipping worryingly by.

Does a writer's environment dictate the sort of material they produce or do we all just learn to adapt to our workspace wherever it is?

During my time in TV I wrote scripts to order in offices, studios, on location, in hotels and in (lots of) pubs but I've never retreated to a rented cottage/house etc to write a book. I have friends who swear by it. Some do it for a weekend but I think I'd be hopeless. I'd think of it as a holiday so the last thing I'd want to do is work. I hear this happens more often than not - especially when a group of writers get together. Six months would be good.

Personally I do my best work when I'm not distracted and home is the place where the environment is familiar enough for me to imagine I'm elsewhere. Does that make sense?

So if I want to go somewhere interesting, exciting, and dangerous - I don't go anywhere.
Re last week's blog - thanks for your responses about X Factor for writers. Bizarrely I found this piece by Katie Allen in The Bookseller this week.
Read more about Richard's work at http://www.richardjayparker.com/

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Writing...Fast or Slow

by Matt Lynn

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is National Novel Writing Month. An American initiative, it aims to get people writing a whole novel during November. It doesn’t make much difference in my house, of course. Just about every month is novel writing month for me. But the Independent has an interesting take on it, listing some of the great books that have been written in a few weeks. I’m not sure why they included Sebastian Faulk’s James Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Cry’, because it is a laughably poor book. But it has to be admitted there are some great books there. ‘On The Road’ for example took only three weeks. So did ‘A Study in Scarlet’, and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Even Dostoyevsky managed to knock out ‘The Gambler’ in only 26 days – although he doesn’t strike you as a fast sort of a writer, in the way that Dickens does.

So is it better for writers to rattle out a book fairly quickly? I certainly think there is something to be said for it, particularly when you are writing thrillers. They are by definition pacey books. A sense of speed is one of the things that readers like about them. Like roller-coasters, they need to be designed to go very fast, and have lots of twists and turns. It is easier to create that kind of breathlessness when you are working at high speed yourself.

That said, you don’t want that to turn into sloppiness. The other key element of a thriller is structure. And that takes time to build. There is nothing worse than reading a book that is all over the place, because the writer hasn’t taken enough time to construct the plot, or do the research.

My own solution is to spend ages on the outline – the structure – but then to write pretty quickly. But I’m sure every writer has their own approach.