Newsletters -fiction

‘Creative moments and tall tales’      

 Newsletter 1 – February 2023

Writing Into the Shadows; a virgin author’s experience

Into the Shadows approaches publication. There is nothing so special for an author than to see their book in ‘the flesh’ for the first time; to hold the book and flick through the pages! The characters from the imagination have been set free to speak to others.

It has been a fascinating process to take a story from daydream through to publication. The actual writing seems a long time ago, the past few months has all been about editing. I found that writing a book was like growing a tree as tall and leafy as you can, and then you spend the rest of the time pruning that tree, snipping and shaping it for the reader. Steven King in his book, On Writing (2020) observes that ‘the writing is for the writer, the editing is for the reader’. It is a brutal process changing your ‘own’ version to the one for the reader. My original book is 120,000 or so words long. But a publisher fed back that it, ‘lacked pace’ after the first chapter, and advice given was that ‘every chapter must support the story, and every word must be necessary’. So, the pruning began down to the final 75,000 or so! Many scenes building background were axed. Instead, the purposes of these initial scenes were distilled into actions or dialogue by the characters themselves – let them tell their own story! A few side plot lines I thought would, ‘develop the characters’ also went as they did not ‘contribute directly to the story’. Even some supporting characters got the chop; ‘stay focussed, maintain pace in the key story line,’ I kept telling myself.

I take my hat off to professional editors – what a job! It is not a case of ‘reading through to see what you spot that is wrong’ I soon learned – you spot way too little that way. No, you need a systematic and organised assault on those pesky words and letters that disguise themselves as right, when they are actually misspelt, backwards, upside down or shouldn’t be there at all.

I started off using some grammar tools, lacking in confidence of my own ability. First up, Grammarly – I now hate it with a vengeance. I didn’t know that there were so many Americanisms – it took me weeks and weeks to weed them all back out and anglicise the text once more (Toward without the ‘s’ is American, now I know…): ‘Word’ spell check will be my starting point next time.

Hemmingway was next. But I found this tool tended to strip out all my personal style and wanted everything paired right back to short, simple questions with no word longer than 4 letters, no adverbs, and nothing to challenge a six-year-old reader. Sorry to all 6-year-olds, you have to learn hard words to read my book!

I have learned that I must take control of my own grammar, my own learning – own up to it and improve it if needs be. I want to be a ‘good writer’ and to do that I need to perfect the use of the tools of the trade. I made a list of all important aspects that may be to the detriment of the reader’s enjoyment of the story, such as missing and inconsistent punctuation for speech, making sure it was clear who was speaking, and taking out repeated words and ‘needless’ words such as (there was a very long list of these!) ‘really’, ‘very’, basically’ and ‘definitely’. Mind you, then I went back and replaced a few of them because that is what I wanted my characters to say… but each word and its ‘usefulness’ has been considered. My sincere hope is that the grammar does not distract in any way from the readers absorption into the story, and if there are errors, I will own up to them, blame no-one else, and learn from them (Commas baffle me. Every editor who provided feedback, and every online tool I used moved them back and forth within a sentence with no rhyme nor reason, that I ended up believing they are invented as prey confetti, to ‘sprinkle in decorative fashion’ according to personal taste: I put them where I thought they should go – perhaps my next learning for the next book…).

Pre-order offer available until 17th March:

Being a spy

Have you ever considered it as a career? Probably not. Not many people I imagine would do so. Most of the spies that have existed have either been ‘recruited’ or been ‘asked’ to help, such as in the time of war. Just as the role of a forensic scientist was glamorised in TV series such as CSI, the role of ‘spy’ has been glorified by such fictional characters as James Bond. In reality things are not always so exciting. However, there is something intriguing and almost romantic about imagining being that silhouette lighting the cigarette under the streetlight, or the person who appears to be a housewife but is actually passing on messages that save the world before the school pick-up.

But if being a spy was an option in the school’s career guide, what skills would they require – and have you got them?  Here are four famous spies – which one of these four would you be?

James Bond (Created by Ian Fleming and immortalised on the big screen over the years, shaken but never stirred.): Highly intelligent, exceedingly cunning, independent, not a team-player, sensible, calm, physically fit (as in strong and fast, as well as damn good looking!), mature, likes cars – the faster the better.

Josephine Baker: (WW II spy and activist: the first American woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre. Singer/performer who worked in Germany collecting information recorded on sheet music in invisible ink) – musical, not easily frightened/brave, outward going, observant, charismatic, determined.

George Smiley (John Le Carre): unobtrusive, ‘melt into the background’ ability, patient, observant, appear harmless, humble, kind, quiet hero, ordinary-looking, analytical.

Lise de Baissac (Carried out clandestine Special Operations during WWII. She acted as a liaison officer between various networks, reporting back to England from Paris. She took part in numerous armed attacks on enemy columns.): action-loving, happy to learn to parachute, brave, smart, energetic, resilient, an organiser, can rapidly build rapport with people, use initiative.

The trouble with ‘genre’ – boxes with lids

People like to know what kind of book they are about to read, and with that promise comes a whole host of expectations. It is the writer’s job to fulfil those expectations. But what happens when a story does not fit neatly into a box?

Into the Shadows, straddles a few boxes. It has a ‘chic-flick’ feel to it, with intense relationship dramas but does not comply to the usual love story tropes– there’s a twist. There is drama, adventure and mystery related to the spy world, but it is not a horror, nor will it give you nightmares – although the lead character certainly has them! It is not quite a ‘cosy mystery. ’There is a ‘who-dunnit’ element but with some swearing and sex scenes, it breaks the ‘cosy’ rules …

I am creating a new box – ’fictional biographies’ It is the story of a young girl who goes on to be a fully-fledged spy (In subsequent books). This book follows her first steps towards the shadowy world and her experiences that pave the way to her further involvement – or it is an account of her experiences that allow her to be easily enmeshed and pulled into such a world – you will have to make up your own mind about that: Does she choose her path or is she ‘recruited’?

I think the lid of boxes of genre should stay off, allowing the books to breathe and float from one box to another. But if pushed, Into the Shadows will be in the ‘Mystery’ box with the subtitle of ‘fictional biography’, ‘adventure’ – and for ‘cosy’ readers, a government health warning.