Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Trials Of An Indie Author: Writing Every Day

The Trials Of An Indie Author: Writing Every Day

I'm sure you've heard the common advice that as a writer, published or not, you should try to write something every day. It doesn't even have to be something for your latest works in progress, it doesn't even have to be fiction. It can be an email to a friend, a status update, a blog post or (and this is usually the best for writers) it can be part of a chapter. It's a piece of advice that has stuck with me for a long time. I've been writing as a career since 2005, which is when I was first published, but even before that, I'd always enjoyed writing a good story and even approached some publishers when I was thirteen and had written a "book" which was 36 pages on Word!

Since I became an indie author in 2011, I've made a lot of good friends in the writing world. Some of them are indie authors too, and others are published through traditional means. All of them have said to someone that you should try to write something every single day. After all, you are a writer, and if you get into the habit of writing, then good things will follow. You'll find yourself having writer's block less and less and your craft will be honed as you think up new things to write about.

While I understand that it is hard to always be thinking about writing something to your latest book - because let's face it, at times writer's block does happen - I find that even if I put all thoughts of my books out of my head and just write a blog piece or write an email to a friend, my fingers start to go faster and faster and before long I'm pulling up my Word document and typing something there as well. I'm not going to say that it happens every single time I write something because if that were the case I would have a lot more than twelve books written! However, it's like someone who trains for a sport professionally or even just as a hobby. The more time they put into practice, the easier they will find it. The same can be said to those who play musical instruments. If you practice every day - even for five or ten minutes - as those days turn into weeks and months, you'll develop more skills. The same can be said for writing.

For some people, writing is their job, for others it's a hobby or something to pass the time. For those of us who are trying to pay the bills with their words, we need to make sure that our brain stays in shape. By exercising it for a few minutes every day, you're doing just that! Now, for those of you who say that they just can't always write something new every single day, I would agree with you. As you're all very much aware, I have chronic illnesses and those inhibit how much work I get done on any given day. In the beginning of my career, I used to get angry with myself if I didn't write something. In turn, that anger would make me feel bad, which would make my physical symptoms seem or feel worse. It was a vicious cycle and one that took a lot of hard work to break free of.

The crux of it is this, if you're able to spend time writing something, then do so. Try to set aside five minutes in the evening when the kids are in bed or you're not thinking about work or housework or anything like that and just let yourself write something. It doesn't ever have to make it off the computer screen, or you can throw the piece of paper away afterwards and no one need ever know what you've written. If you want to keep it, that's okay too, if you want to show it off to your friends or whoever, that's also fine. I know a lot of writing communities who do daily prompts. They ask that you take the prompt and spend ten to fifteen minutes writing a short piece. That can do wonders to helping you get better as a writer, it can make you think outside of what you're working on, which in turn can lead to more work being done on your current project.

Basically, just as you make time to read in the evening, or to watch a certain TV show or whatever, try to make time to do a little writing. It doesn't have to be award winning, it doesn't have to even be that long, just something that you can use to exercise your writer muscles! After all, that's kind the definition of what we do!

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Thursday 8 January 2015

Guest Blogger: Wendy Jones

I'm joined today by Wendy Jones, an indie author who has just released her d├ębut novel Killer's Countdown. She has written a piece on Forensics and research to share here, and after which I'll share my review of her book, as well as links to buy it!

Thank you for inviting me to take over the blog today at Joey Paul Online. It is a real honour and a pleasure to be here.

For those of your readers who don’t know me, I live in the Beautiful Scottish City of Dundee. Although I am originally from Dundee, I moved away when I was 18 and returned only 3 years ago. In the intervening years I was in both the Royal Navy and the British Army as a nurse. I am a passionate reader, especially of crime fiction, and had always wanted to write crime books. Two years ago I took the bull by the horns and wrote my first book, Killer’s Countdown. The book launch for this was the on 17th November 2014 at Waterstones Bookshop in Dundee.

As I say, it is an honour to be here as your blog is a great tool for writers. As a fellow crime writer, I appreciated your post on The Trials of a Crime Writer: When research becomes unhealthy. I agree that there is an inordinate amount of research that goes into writing crime books. I too do a lot of research for my books and have done several courses on Forensics. Killer’s Countdown is the first in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. During this book, Shona is in Tayside Police. Whilst I was in the process of editing the book, all the Scottish Police Forces merged into one big force called Police Scotland. This organisation has been very helpful and promptly dispatched a Police Sergeant to my house to help me understand the changes. We spent a pleasant few hours drinking tea, eating biscuits and discussing the finer points of police work. He then advised me to pay absolutely no notice whatsoever to what the police actually did, in a broad sense, as this would bore the readers to an early grave. Val McDermid has also said a similar thing. So, whilst I make sure that on the whole everything is accurate, I then play fast and loose with anything I want. For example, the Scottish Police are not armed. However, DI Shona and her team are always running around the streets of Dundee carrying firearms. The local police have even tweeted about this very fact. So, whilst I agree with everything you say in your blog, my motto is never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Where fiction is concerned anyway.

Thank you once again, Joey. It has been a pleasure to come along today and meet your readers. I hope they enjoy the book. 

First Book in the DI Shona McKenzie Series
Dead Women

A Ruthless Killer

A Detective with something to prove

Newly promoted DI Shona McKenzie struggles to cope with her new job, the respect of her colleagues, and the need to solve the hardest case of her life.

Will she succeed?

My review of Killer's Countdown:

5/5 stars. Highly recommended and very much enjoyed!

This was on my TBR list for a while, but thankfully I finally found time to read it and loved it! DI Shona is faced with the enormity of having to solve one murder when another and then another keeps popping up.They all seem to be random but they also seem to be linked. Can she find that link between them and then catch up with a killer who's skilled in many different ways and almost seems to be a ghost? You'll have to read to find out. This was my first reading of a book by Wendy Jones and I am not disappointed at all. I loved the prose, and the way it was written seemed to pull you into its grip and I soon found that despite it being almost midnight, I *had* to finish this book and know exactly what motivated the killer to set out upon a life of crime. It deals with some serious issues such as child abuse, bullying and neglect, but does so in a way that makes you relate to all the characters on some level. The level of accuracy in the book is outstanding and I could picture myself following along with the investigation as a silent shadow because the story made it seem as if I were there myself.

As a debut novel, it is excellent and I will be reading the next in the series when it comes out. Wendy Jones is someone to keep a watch out for. She writes believable crime and allows you to follow the characters as if they were real. Highly recommended and I loved every page of it!

Her book can be brought on Amazon Kindle (UK - USA), as well as in paperback and other e-book sites.

If you're interested in Guest Blogging for Joey, please contact her at bugbooks@virginmedia.com or comment on this blog!

Thursday 1 January 2015

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: When Research Becomes Unhealthy

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: When Research Becomes Unhealthy

One of the things that I don't like about my job, is the research that goes hand in hand with writing fiction. Some people say that you should only write what you know, but for me that seems to limit the imagination to only what you're sure about. With the need for more writers to expand their circle of characters to be more inclusive, it seems to be that writing is always going to include things that the writer themselves have not experienced. That of course, goes double for situations I write about that include crime.

I have never actually murdered someone, though like many other people, I have thought about what would be the "perfect crime". I have read various reference books in regards to crime, punishment and forensics, but that just makes sense to me given what my chosen genre is. In fact, I'm writing this piece just after completing some work on an introduction to forensics course that I took to give me more information about the process of catching a criminal. Of course, there are many crimes that you can research by talking to people who have been through the system, such as petty theft and possibly even some drug related crimes. Other more violent crimes tend to be hard to experience through talking with the convicted perpetrators and even if it  was possible, I'm not sure I'd want to go that far for authenticity.

One thing I have learnt in my forensic course is that there is pretty much no such thing as a perfect crime. Locard's principle sticks in my mind and essentially boils down to "every contact leaves a trace". Some of these traces are not even visible to the naked eye and unless you want to start carrying around a microscope and other heavy equipment, you're not likely to realise it's there. My main issue when writing a new book, or writing about a case Tara has been called to work on, is knowing whether or not it's something that the police would have picked up. Obviously, scientific discoveries have allowed the crime scene experts to know what to look for, and in that regard the police are pretty well versed in how to run a crime scene. The whole idea of some of my books is to think up something that they may have missed (such as during 
some of Tara's cases) or things that the killer has thought of and produced counter measures to make sure the police are lead in the wrong direction (as is the case with a couple of my books)

However, as I've mentioned before, there are only so many things you can learn from a course or a book and it's not unheard of for crime writers to act out, as much as they can, the exact scenarios they want their characters to go through. Although it's a work of fiction, a good example would be the ways in which Richard Castle in the TV series CASTLE, tests the strength and ways to break out of a zip tie. I've done similar things myself, and for the record, those bits of research I actually do like! For me it's the going through books and websites and videos to find the information I need that drive me up the wall. It's a necessary evil, but it has to be done if you want your reader to be able to believe that it's possible that the chosen scenario happened.

Yet, there is a line, I feel, for when you have to realise that all the research (and I mean book more than practical) in the world is not going to give you the information you want and therefore, you're either going to have to change the scene and use something else or you're going to have to find some hands-on evidence that backs up your story line. Research is all well and good so long as it actually helps you move on with the story. I do believe however, that eventually you have to stop reading the books and making everything perfect (or info dumping, which is something I'll discuss another time) and allow the story to unfold on its own. There is such a thing as too much research. While it is possible that knowing exactly how a DNA sample will be processed and the sheer number of statistics on your side as to whether or not the sample is individualised enough, there is also the possibility that your book will go from being a work of fiction, to almost like an essay on how wonderfully good forensics are. If you're going to keep the reader from feeling like they are doing research, you have to allow for some imperfection. After all, knowing how it should be done, doesn't mean that it is always done that way. Some of the best "mistakes" can make the most riveting reading!

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