Saturday, 8 December 2007

HOS - Only 3 or 4 Chapters to Go!

Another week in the coastal town of Whitby, this time with laptop to hand, has proved very useful indeed. For, not only did I manage to relax and de-stress, I managed to get some writing done. I am now up to page 217 of Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows, with only three or four chapters to go.

I am likely to reach my goal of completing the first draft before this year is out, and that means I am on target to have the published book in your hands by summer/autumn 2008.

Here is the plan for the next few months;
  • Do a major edit in January, looking for errors in grammar and plot consistency, making sure I flesh out descriptive passages along the way (I’ll be having a list of the five senses in front of me as I write).
  • Print a few A4 copies and hand them to assigned proofreaders – two or three youngsters, pre-teen and early teen, to get responses from the target audience – and a couple of adults.
  • Commission an artist to work on a cover painting.
  • After feedback on the text has been collated, hand a freshly edited manuscript to my assigned editor (who will then pick the whole thing to pieces!).
  • Based on feedback from my editor, work on one final draft.
  • Prepare the text and cover art for the print-on-demand service.
  • Prepare a publicity plan and write a press release.

Some of the above will take place simultaneously. I am really looking forward to publishing this new book. I believe it to be a worthy successor to Century Lodge and I’m confident you will find it worth the wait.

Once it is in the public domain I will get to work on a treatment for Book Three. I am determined to produce that within 18 months/two years of HOS hitting the market. With the existing fan base gasping for more, I cannot afford to leave it so long again.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

"Go and Have Your Lovely Beans On Toast."

In light of my last couple of postings, just to readdress the balance, I thought I would wax lyrical about the things I do like about Russell T Davies’s 21st century reimagining of Doctor Who.

I wasn’t so sure that the Doctor should have very short hair and a leather jacket (he looking more like a Little Hulton drug dealer than any of his Edwardian styled predecessors), but once I heard him dismiss Rose in the first episode of this revived series with the quip, “Go and have your lovely beans on toast,” I knew I would like him.

The detached alien quality of the Doctor is there, and it shines through the rest of the first episode. When the TARDIS transports them from a restaurant to the River Thames, the Doctor impatiently barks, “It disappears there and reappears here. You wouldn’t understand.” This is reminiscent of the First Doctor’s retort in the very, very first episode An Unearthly Child (1963), “It’s not clear, is it? You don’t understand. And I knew you wouldn’t. Never mind.”

And this is what the Doctor should be – alien.

It’s interesting that once he’s spent a period of time alone, as he has in the Series Three debut Smith and Jones, he has lost his humanity again. There’s a scene where Martha closes the eyes of a dead man and covers his face with a blanket, and the Doctor is completely dispassionate. I like this about the 21st century Doctor. He is only human-like when he’s in the company of humans. Once that influence is absent, so is his humanity.

In the second episode of Series One, The End of the World, Russell T Davies presents us with a situation we all learned about at school, and one which I’d always thought would be interesting for the Doctor to visit, namely the death of our planet as it gets engulfed by the expanding sun. It was a treat to see it realised with breathtaking special effects.

The first of the scripts by contributing writers took the form of Mark Gatiss’s expertly crafted The Unquiet Dead. The BBC has always done costume drama particularly well, and so has Doctor Who. Think The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), The Visitation (1982) and The Curse of Fenric (1989). Gatiss’s story is up there with them, his taste for the language of the 19th century and Charles Dickens is well cultivated. It goes without saying that Simon Callow’s performance as Dickens is sublime.

Paul Cornell’s Father’s Day has real emotional impact. My dad died in 2003, and I have often fantasised about going back to the 1970s and meeting him as an adult, and he not realising who I am. So this episode mirrored the fantasy for me.

I was thrilled to know that Robert Shearman’s radio play, Jubilee, starring Colin Baker (a straight to CD release by Big Finish Productions) was going to be adapted to television. The idea of a lone Dalek being tortured by humans and then pretending to be vulnerable until it can assert itself was a truly chilling one. The bare bones of the idea surfaced in Shearman’s Dalek and served as the perfect way to reintroduce the metal monsters.

The voice of the Dalek being supplied by a man who has obsessed about the creatures since childhood, namely one Nicholas Briggs, was inspired casting. The writer/producer/voice artist knows all the subtleties and nuances of the Dalek range, he having analysed and assimilated the best performances of his predecessors.

Russell T Davies gives us a cheap filler episode in The Long Game (a simple set dressed differently to double up as two places), and yet, thanks to some stellar performances from the guest cast, especially Simon Pegg, it doesn’t seem cheap at all.

Possibly the best story of that first series is The Empty Child by Steven Moffatt. The little boy in the gas mask constantly asking, “Are you my mummy?” as he wanders around war torn London is the stuff nightmares are made of. John Barrowman puts in a great performance as new semi-regular Captain Jack too.

In the series finale, The Parting of the Ways, Russell gives us a number of fan fantasies come true. Those of us who grew up on the original Doctor Who often dreamed of legions of Daleks swarming across space, but had never actually seen it realised on screen until now.

We had been mesmerised by the idea of the TARDIS materialising around another object so that it appears inside the craft (a trick first performed in original series stories The Time Monster and Logopolis), and we had often fantasised about it materialising around a person. Again, it is in this story that we actually see it, as the Doctor chances materialising his ship around Rose to save her from the Daleks – the police box forming around her, and from the interior perspective, Rose solidifying in the control room. Superb!

We all imagined the Dalek Emperor from The Evil of the Daleks (1967) to be of godlike proportions, but only in Parting is it actually realised as such.

And as the Doctor triggers the regeneration process within himself at the adventure’s climax, he actually tells Rose what is going to happen, that he is going to change, that he will never look at her through those eyes again and not with “this daft old face”. He prepares Rose, and the audience, for the shocking change of appearance and persona just ahead. The transformation itself is stunning, the metamorphosis for the first time in the series’ long history taking place while the Doctor is standing up.

Davies’s The Christmas Invasion is a riot, but my favourite aspect of it is the way Rose deals with the loss of her Doctor. The man in the bed (David Tennant) is nothing like him, and at one point she breaks down, lamenting, “He left me, Mum. He left me.” This again is Davies’s writing at its best, and demonstrates admirably why it is good to have a fan of the original show at the helm of the 21st century version. He is someone who has thought long and hard about the conventions of Doctor Who, the changeover of one leading man to another being one of the prime examples, and he gives them an emotional context that was rarely seen in the 1963-89 series.

My favourite stories from the second series are New Earth by Russell T Davies, School Reunion by Toby Whitehouse (great to see Sarah-Jane meet the Doctor again – and as with the regeneration, it’s an emotional reaction that we get), Rise of the Cybermen by Tom MacRae (adapted from Big Finish radio play Spare Parts, by Marc Platt), Steven Moffatt’s The Girl in the Fireplace, and The Impossible Planet by Matthew Jones.

Of Series Three, I love Smith & Jones and Gridlock (the latter being very similar in style to the kind of oddball adventure we might have seen in the Sylvester McCoy era, but with a few quid spent on it) by Russell T Davies, Daleks in Manhattan by Helen Raynor, Human Nature (the Doctor becomes human in wartime Britain and falls in love) by Paul Cornell, Blink by Steven Moffatt and Utopia by Russell T Davies.

Of the Doctor’s companions, Billie Piper did a great job as girl next door Rose Tyler (I love her reaction to the inside of the TARDIS when she first goes in), but it’s Freema Agyeman who has really won me over as Martha Jones. She’s contemporary, but smart with it.

I’m not sure what I think of Catherine Tate’s character Donna Noble, she having only appeared in the one adventure to date (The Runaway Bride). I guess I’ll have to wait for the 2008 series to form a proper opinion.

As for the two Doctors, David Tennant looks more like the Doctor of old with his suit, trainers, and World War Two trench coat, but I think Christopher Eccleston was probably more in key with the original character.

There are a good number of things that I don’t like about modern Doctor Who. But I shall save those for another time.

I await the 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, with bated breath.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Russell Thief Davies - or Just Coincidence

One of the things new writers worry about when submitting their material to various agents and publishers is having their work plagiarised in some way. How do they know that the editor or publisher won’t steal the core ideas and rework them in a piece of their own?

It is a basic truth in the world of writing that authors are regurgitating themes, ideas, set pieces and characters that they have been exposed to throughout their lives. Some of their material might be culled from their own experiences or the experiences of people they know. Some of it might be an affectionate nod towards the fiction they themselves grew up on.

Working writers (that is, writers who are making a living from their work and go from one commission to another) are on the lookout all the time for fresh ideas to prevent their output drying up. Television script writers plunder newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Very often a popular theme or a striking news item finds itself reworked and presented as a storyline in a soap opera. It’s conveyor belt drama for the mass market, and that conveyor belt must not under any circumstances be permitted to stop.

When I was writing The Feeling’s Unmutual in 2003, I had the double thrill of learning that the BBC had invited top TV scribe Russell T Davies to be Head Writer and Executive Producer of a revived and reinterpreted series of Doctor Who. I knew that my book was featuring classic Who quite prominently and that the Six Doctor himself, Colin Baker, was going to endorse it.

Very excited, once my book was published (September 2004), I mailed a copy to Mr Davies courtesy of BBC Wales. Needless to say, I did not receive a reply. This bothered me a bit because I felt that Russell would have enjoyed reading it from a fan’s point of view. I knew we were very different people in some ways, but in the Doctor Who way we would be very similar.

I also sent Christopher Eccleston a copy. He had grown up in Little Hulton and had attended Joseph Eastham High School, the secondary school I went to. I knew he would be interested in the book, not only because he was filming the new Doctor Who, but because he would recognise the Little Hulton and surrounding areas described in the book. Needless to say I didn’t get a reply from him either.

The Feeling’s Unmutual not only details my life and the way Asperger syndrome has affected me, but covers the creation of my little robot school girl Anne Droyd.

In just a few months I began receiving emails from Doctor Who fans (one a prominent member of the Appreciation Society, another a fan in Canada) who were also readers of my book Anne Droyd and Century Lodge alerting me to the fact that Russell T Davies was going to include a robot of television presenter Anne Robinson in the episode "Bad Wolf" and call her Anne Droid.

When the episode aired in the summer of 2005, a number of people approached to ask, “Do you think Russell Davies has read your book?” I could not help but ask the same thing myself.

But – I also knew that Russell had grown up watching the same programmes I’d watched, and that his influences would be very much the same. I later learned that I was not the first to think of the pun “Anne Droyd”. An author in the 1970s had included a character with that name in a Star Wars novel. So Russell might have been influenced by that.

Nevertheless, it did irritate me enormously when the scribe declared that his Anne Droid was the funniest thing in the whole of the 2005 series.

Other similarities started to show through, such as organisations having secret bases beneath derelict buildings and ordinary streets. But – again – there were examples of this in many a sci-fi/adventure series in the 1970s/80s.

And so I dismissed the idea that my work was being ripped off.

Until January 1 2007, when The Sarah-Jane Adventures debuted. Davies executive produced that too, and oversaw the writing of the episode with long-time Doctor Who novelist Gareth Roberts. I had been a big fan of Roberts’ 1990s “Missing Adventures” The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death, and had written to him to tell him. This time I did get a reply, along with a signed copy of his then new book The Plotters (which was as equally well written and absorbing as his previous titles). To return the gesture, in 2002, I sent Gareth a signed copy of my original Anne Droyd novel.

I cannot say for definite that my autobiography and children’s novel have been mercilessly reworked, but I do believe that Davies and Roberts know of my writings.

The Doctor Who series goes from strength-to-strength in terms of popularity, and I’m glad it is enjoying a much deserved renaissance. Russell T Davies has received BAFTA awards for his involvement. But one rarely hears him crediting other writers or admitting that he has sourced existing material.

For my sanity’s sake, I will not be sending him, or indeed any other writer not known to me, manuscripts or even published books in future. All material is up for grabs and re-working. So if you are a fledgling writer, don’t show your work to anybody unless it is a trusted friend, an agent or a publisher.

Below are the similarities I have noted between my works and that of Russell T Davies since the revival of Doctor Who in 2005...

Anne Droyd

There is a character called “The Anne Droid” in Bad Wolf.

Secret Bases Under the Streets

Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride (Thames floods the base as Century Lodge does the Foundation),Torchwood, SJA: Invasion of the Bane.

Sarah-Jane Adventures

I worked in a pop factory for seven years – there is a secret base beneath a pop factory.

I obsessed about Dr David Banner and The Incredible Hulk, my book references them frequently – Sarah-Jane lives on Bannerman Road.

Anne Droyd and Century Lodge features an ice cold villainess – Invasion of the Bane features an ice cold villainess.

In Century Lodge’s underground bunker, the villains are creating an android girl. She is like a blank slate, she doesn’t know anything, she has superhuman abilities (memorises a school register instantly), but she doesn’t understand social conventions. One of the human children in the story is called Luke – in Invasion of the Bane’s underground bunker, the villains are creating a hybrid human child. The child is like a blank slate, he doesn’t know anything, he has enhanced mental abilities (learns to read instantly), but he doesn’t understand social conventions. They name him Luke.

Rip-off or just coincidence? I can’t tell anymore. Am I just that bit too paranoid? Very probably. But it’s best to be safe.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Recommended Reading: "Chion" by Darryl Sloan

It was the premise that hooked me in to start with. The idea of snow falling all over the country, and possibly the world, and rather than turning to slush and melting away, it mysteriously remains. But not just that, something terrible has happened. Is it a freak accident of nature, or is it the work of a new kind of chemical terrorist warfare? For, touching it, treading on it, or falling on it leaves one fixed to it - permanently.

The title of the book, Chion (pronounced “Kai-on”) is an ancient Greek word meaning “like snow”. The fact that it’s white and flaky is where the similarity ends. All over the British Isles, Ireland, and maybe beyond, people are trapped in their own homes, in their cars on the motorway, at school, hoping that someone is going to come and save them, or tell them how to save themselves. What will happen when the food runs out? What about electricity supplies and heat?

Chion is set at Clounagh Junior High school in Northern Ireland and tells the story of Jamie and Tara, who dare to think they might escape the confines of the school building and reach a safe haven. This is the other aspect that hooked me: the characterisation.

Jamie and Tara are real teenagers. They worry about the things real teenagers worry about. Jamie has a crush on Tara, and because of some bad news he has received about himself, she becomes his main focus. What starts out as a science-fiction thriller, becomes, by turns, a tale about a group of increasingly paranoid and frightened people stuck in an enclosed place, an adventure about fugitives on the run, and a love story.

The book is a classic in the “What if?” genre of storytelling, and the reader cannot help but wonder what he or she would do in similar circumstances. It’s a page turner, be sure about that.

Shades of John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids) and John Christopher (the Tripods saga, The Prince in Waiting trilogy) come through as Chion mimics the best of the old post-apocalyptic greats, while at the same time remaining poignant and contemporary.

Darryl Sloan is a keen observer of human nature. His plotting is meticulous and clever. He deserves to have national and international success with this.

It is best book I’ve read this year.

Highly recommended.

Chion by Darryl Sloan.

Personal signed copies available from the author's web site
: http://www.darrylsloan.com/

Monday, 27 August 2007

Taboo or Not Taboo?

When reading a novel or watching a television drama, do you find yourself second guessing what the author of the piece might be getting at? For example, if you know that the writer has certain political leanings, do you think when you hit upon a scene, “Ah, I think he’s making a point here”?

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a writer is deliberately attempting to influence the reader/viewer/listener. The 21st century version of Doctor Who is moulded and shaped by Russell T Davies. He is a prolific and much respected scribe and what he has achieved with Who is remarkable. But he’s also a staunch atheist (on record saying he would like to see all religion banned) and a keen promoter of homosexual rights.

Have these themes found their way into Doctor Who? They surely have.

In the second episode of Series One, “The End of the World”, as a shuttle approaches a huge space station, an announcement is broadcast forbidding the practice of religion. Later in the same episode we witness the Holy Order of the Repeated Meme, which is a clever pun on what Davies believes religious attachment to be (no doubt influenced by the writings of one Professor Richard Dawkins). And in the final episode of that season, “The Parting of the Ways”, when the Daleks have harvested Earth’s waifs and strays and developed religious feelings, the Doctor says they have inherited the stink of humanity.

Viewers with religious feelings of their own might be troubled by these sentiments.

With regard to homosexuality, the first obvious attempt at planting the concept in the minds of the children watching is the scene in “The Parting of the Ways” where Captain Jack, about to go off into war against the Daleks, kisses Rose on the lips, and then kisses the Doctor in exactly the same way.

In the Series Three episode “Utopia”, Jack is seen to chat up a girl, then a man, then a blue insect creature! The anything-goes approach to sexuality and relationships is sprinkled discreetly throughout. In “Gridlock”, the Doctor jumps onto a campervan occupied by an elderly lesbian couple, and then onto one inhabited by a humanoid cat and an ordinary woman – with their kittens occupying a straw basket. In “42”, Martha asks one of the male characters if he has a girlfriend. When he replies in the negative, Martha inquires if he has a boy friend.

Now, some would say this is a fine thing, that equal rights are being promoted – while others would be disturbed by what is being sown in young fertile minds.

Of course, whenever RTD is challenged about preaching atheism or promoting homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and sex between different species to his impressionable viewers, he laughs raucously and suggests that the question itself is outrageous.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

But now, as I publish stories of my own, I find that some readers see in my work patterns of thinking and philosophies being expounded. Or do they…?

Readers do tend to read between the lines.

A much respected university lecturer told me he admired the way I pre-empt the great ordeal Gezz, Malcolm and Luke would later face in Century Lodge by in the first instance showing Malcolm having to overcome his fear of the foreboding railway bridge. He thought the bridge and the fear associated with it was a metaphor for what was to come. I had to tactfully explain that no such device was at work. The disused railway and that low bridge really exist. They are from my own childhood. Malcolm’s reaction to the bridge mirrored my own at that tender age. It was as simple as that.

On another occasion, I had a literary talent scout read Century Lodge in the hope that she would recommend me to a big name publisher. The lady in question took great exception to the apparent statement made in the book, that religious families are good and wholesome and that non-religious families are less so. She also had a problem with me “lecturing” the reader about the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

I felt obliged to explain one or two things.

First of all, while I was deliberately contrasting Gezz’s family with that of Luke’s, I was careful in constructing the characters to make sure they were not stereotypes. So, Gezz’s parents have got rid of their television, but Gezz goes round to Luke’s to watch Grange Hill. Gezz’s mother is very devoted to her religion and regards the Luke’s family as uncouth, but Gezz’s dad chooses to watch the movie Blade Runner with Luke’s dad because they have a shared interest in science-fiction.

It was my intention to expose Anne (and the reader) to conflicting information. Having a religious family, a secular family, and a boy with independent philosophies seemed the best way to show it.

As for the smoking issue, I do not believe that the scenes in which Gezz and Anne try a cigarette lecture the reader in any way. If they make the reader think twice about starting smoking, that can only be good. If they make adult readers feel awkward about their own smoking habit, then I cannot apologise. They probably feel awkward when their children come home from school and tell them about the posters they’ve seen depicting tar oozing from blackened lungs or list the lethal ingredients of cigarette smoke. Should the school apologise for showing their pupils these things? Hardly.

The feelings of guilt and shame experienced by Gezz reflect those of my own. When I tried smoking, I couldn’t wait to get my clothes into the washing machine and have a shower – mostly because I was terrified of my mother picking up the foul odour from me.

Recently, a reader in Germany got in touch, first to tell me easy Century Lodge is to read (and that’s a great compliment from a person who does not read English as her first language), and then to tell me how disturbed she was by the implication that Gezz’s family is better than Luke’s because Gezz’s family is religious. What fascinated me was how this reader was re-evaluating her own family life as a result of noticing the differences between the families in my novel.

And maybe that’s the crux of it. The readers are applying what they read to their own lives. And that is a tremendous thing for an author to contemplate. They are made to think by what they are reading.

I advised that my new German friend read the book to the very end before she drew any conclusions. She did so, and about two thirds of the way through it, sent me an email reporting she had been “happy to spend an afternoon at Luke’s house” (and thus seeing more closely what makes those characters tick).

Of course, there is another thing at work here too. Dennis Potter once said it is sometimes the job of the writer to make people think about things they don’t want to think about. I find this interesting. Have I touched a raw nerve in some of my adult readers? (I say “adult” because no child has ever complained about the way I depict characters, nor have they accused me of lecturing them). Am I making atheists think about God when they would prefer to forget him? Am I raising awkward questions about God that religionists find disconcerting? Are the smokers angry with me because I’m pointing up their addiction?

I’m not setting out to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I am intending through the character of Anne to ask questions. Maybe some don’t want them asked.

As for my reader in Germany, she cannot wait to get her hands on Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows, and she’s bringing her copies of Century Lodge and Feeling’s Unmutual with her to the UK for me to sign when I attend the Tripods gathering in Brighton on Saturday 22 September.

It’s a privilege to affect people so profoundly, but I am now inclined to think twice before reading too much into the writings of others.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

My Brain!

One of my very worthy pass times is doing searches on the Internet for my own name and the titles of my books to see how I’m fairing. It isn’t quite as egotistical as it sounds, as I need to keep on top of how well I’m doing in the publishing realm. Sometimes I come across reviews of my books that I otherwise would never have known about.

This month I came across an academic paper by Donna Stevenson that looks into how my brain works! I was utterly astonished when I stumbled across this piece. She has read a number of autobiographies written by people professing to have varying degrees of autism. Since Asperger syndrome is at the low end of the autistic spectrum, and I am at the narrow end of that, exhibiting the secondary traits of the condition, my account has been included.

As you will see if you follow the link, Donna has researched it well and draws some interesting conclusions about trends in my thinking and behaviour and how my brain may be functioning (or malfunctioning, depending on how you look at it).

I have had many a fantasy about where my writings may lead me – publishing a bestseller, creating heroes for children, having my books adapted for television, walking down those famous stairs on Parkinson - but having the biological mechanisms of my brain analysed was never one of them!

What a fascinating and unpredictable journey mine is turning out to be.

Here’s the link: http://homepage.mac.com/dgstevenson/quadrants/Research.html

Friday, 13 July 2007

150 Pages In

Carol and I recently went for a week in the coastal town of Whitby. It is located on the north east side of England, if you’re located outside the UK and wondering, and it’s lovely. I went there when I was about three or four years-old with my mother, father, cousin, and grandparents. Then, after my middle brother had been born, I went back with just him, Mum and Dad.

A few years ago I persuaded Carol to come and have a look at the place, and she fell in love with it. The fishing harbour, the swinging bridge (which parts in the middle to allow boats to pass through) the old part of town with its vintage buildings and cobbled street, the 199 steps stretching up to St Mary’s church, and the old ruined abbey. It’s all potent stuff.

Little wonder, then, that Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula while he was there, and that other writers like GP Taylor (author of Shadowmancer, which started out as a self-published novel before being picked up by Faber & Faber and becoming an international hit) have followed suit.

One of the things I learned from The Writers Bureau correspondence course is how to make a story feel authentic, how to make it feel true. One way is to thoroughly research your subject so that reader discerns that you know your subject. Another way is to write about things you know from personal experience. With Anne Droyd and Century Lodge (CL), I employed the latter method. I combined the essence of the things I loved in childhood (Stig of the Dump, The Famous Five, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Red Hand Gang, Grange Hill and Doctor Who) with the way I felt during my early teens (I was a combination of Gezz, Malcolm and Anne, and envied the self confidence I saw in youngsters who were like Luke), and set it in places I had known (the school I went to, the den on the railway embankment and how I wished it could be, and the housing estate near where I was living at the time).

This time around, with Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows (HOS), I am utilising my memories of family holidays, travelling by coach, and the town of Whitby. Thrown into the mix is a particular theme I want to explore and a plot device that has always fascinated me (you’ll find out what they are when you read it!). Additionally, there are one or two things that were present in Whitby when I was a child that no longer exist.

One of these is the miniature railway which I adored. The layout is still there, but the train track has gone and a train shaped engine pulls two carriages on wheels across smooth concrete. Talk about cost cutting! Well, I was so annoyed that they’d got rid of the little train when I returned to Whitby as an adult that I have reintroduced it to the setting in the book.

That’s one of the pleasures of fictionalising a real place.

While I was in Whitby I took time to wander about, note book in hand, and get the names of the streets and the dimensions of the place. I also knuckled down with the writing, and I’m pleased to announce that I am now 150 paperback sized pages into HOS.

Even before I started writing this new book, I had a feeling that it was going to be fun. I have set the story just a few months after the events of CL, and the adventure picks up where the first one left off. The characters develop in a very natural way, and Anne is now central to their lives. It’s a lovely thing, having introduced Anne to the three main characters in CL, to be able to have her there from the very first page of HOS.

I estimate that I’ll have the whole story completed by the end of summer. After that, I will be farming out copies to see what people think. Then I’ll be doing an edit. Then it’s off to my editor, who will find everything that’s wrong with it, and then it will be the big one – the major edit.

It’s unlikely now that the book will be ready for November. I think February’s half term holiday is a much more realistic projection. One of the pluses of having complete control over a project like this is being able to set your own deadlines. If there are setbacks, all I need do is announce a fresh release date.

At the present time I'm on target.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Man From PFD, He Say, "No!"

I received an email from Simon Trewin’s literary agency PFD a few days ago. The email thanked me for sending the sample chapters of my manuscript (I didn’t send them sample chapters or a manuscript, as it happens. I sent a book, some Amazon reviews, a couple of fan letters, a CV and a covering letter), and that, after giving it some consideration, they have decided it is not for them.

Given the volume of submissions they are likely to receive on a weekly basis, I do not mind the standard rejection letter – or email, as it was in this case.

There was one line in it that gave some encouragement, and I took it to heart. It said, “There are as many opinions [in the publishing world] as there are agents prepared to read your work, so please keep going.”

I will do just that.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

A Lovely Anecdote

I approached one of my work colleagues a couple of days ago with the news that I am now 70 pages into the new Anne Droyd book. I thought her son would be especially pleased to know it, since he has read and re-read the first adventure so many times.

My colleague engaged me. ‘Did I tell you what he said about the sequel?’

I shrugged and smiled.

She continued, ‘Well he asked me, “Mum, when is the next one coming out?” and I said, “I think Will has to find another publisher first.” When he asked why, I explained that it costs quite a bit of money to print the books and that’s why the author uses a publisher, because he can’t afford to print them all himself.’

I felt genuinely touched by her son’s interest.

Then she related, ‘But that didn’t satisfy him. He said, “Mum, how much money does Will need to do it?” I said, “I think it’s quite a lot, love.”’

The boy’s final question really hit me.

‘He said, “Is there enough money in my bank account to do it?”’

What a lovely thing to say. Experiences like these keep me motivated.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

ANNE DROYD II: Now 70 Pages In.

Well, friends, I have at long last started to knuckle down on Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows. I actually wrote the first two or three chapters many months ago, but due to my being despondent about my future as a writer, and my general low self-esteem, I just couldn’t get motivated.

Then, last year, a man took a job at the office where I work, and it turned out that he was none other than sometime editor-producer-director John Ainsworth. He had worked in the media in different roles and was now between jobs. He took the office job to give some structure to his day and enable a little social interaction. Amazingly, and entirely by coincidence, it became my job to train him up.

John was astonished that I knew of him. He asked if I’d heard of Big Finish Productions (the BBC licensed company that make Doctor Who radio plays with the original series actors), and when I conceded I was a bit of a fan, he revealed that he had considerable involvement with them. Indeed he had directed some of their plays.

Over the next six months or so, John gave me a few pointers about writing and publishing, and put me in touch with a friend of his who worked as a talent scout for a major publisher. His friend’s advice was to shelve Anne Droyd (because the first book has been published twice already, once by a tiny company, once by a well known publisher catering for a niche market, and has “failed” both times (or at least that’s how the big boys will see it)) and start on something completely fresh.

Write something completely fresh I did. A novel for older readers was penned in three to four months, I created my own soap opera and wrote a half hour script with a view to submitting it to various producers and script editors (John told me soap is the way into television writing, but they cannot look at a prospective episode of their own soap for legal reasons. You must create one of your own, and if they like what you do, they might commission you to write for their show), and I wrote a two hour pilot episode for a young adult TV series of my own devising.

None of the above have as yet seen the light of day. But I was fired up and ready to go again, and it’s all thanks to meeting and getting to know John Ainsworth. John left my place of employment a few months later to take on a full time position at Big Finish Productions, directing the likes of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy (not to mention David Warner and Derek Jacobi).

I never felt comfortable with the idea of shelving Anne Droyd, though. I had sent Century Lodge (CL) off to a couple of literary agencies a while ago. One said my book had nearly made it to their list, but they felt the presence of real life issues hindered the story rather than helped it (not the view of my readership, it has to be said) and the other informed me there was no market for the series (again my steadily growing fan base implies that there is a market).

So the plan now is this: Write and publish Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows through POD and give the fans something new to read, put my young adult book through another edit and release that under a pseudonym (I don’t want children and parents assuming it’s a book for youngsters, and publishing under “Will Hadcroft” would certainly lead them to think that it is), and submit my soap script to a few producers and see what feedback I get.

House of Shadows (HOS) is turning out to be a joy to write. As I say, I had done the first couple of chapters and worked out a general plot as early as 2002. Recently, I summoned up the treatment from my computer, read through it, broke it down from 12 long chapters to 30 shorter ones, and got started on a revision of the existing text.

Something that has helped encourage me enormously is downloading the paperback template from Lulu.com. I am writing the novel on paperback sized pages rather than A4. Doing it this way has really boosted morale. Instead of thinking, “Oh, I’ve only managed to do five A4 pages today, it’s going to take forever,” I find myself getting excited and saying, “Hey, I’ve done ten paperback pages today!”

Writing it in this format is something I would encourage all authors to try. You see your baby taking shape as you go. Once I’ve reached page 100, I will know I’m a third of the way through the book.

I am currently up to page 70 and loving it. One of the real joys is having the situation between the three human children and Anne already in place. The vast majority of readers will have experienced Book I, so there’s no need to write lengthy paragraphs explaining who everyone is in Book II. I think it will be more intriguing for newcomers as well, since Anne is there with Gezz, Luke and Malcolm right from the first chapter of HOS. Her behaviour and rigid speech patterns will fascinate and amuse those who discover the character on her second book.

There is a one line explanation stating that she is an android left in the care of the children, and a brief mention of the professor who created her, and then it’s on with the new story. I’ve put in an asterisk and a footnote, which reads, “See Anne Droyd and Century Lodge”. That’s something I used to love about Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who TV story novelisations. If he referred to an event in a previous adventure, the title of that story (if it had been published in book form) would be in a notation at the bottom, which, of course, made me want to buy that book next.

As with CL, I have found that the most mundane experiences seen through the eyes of this emotionless robot school girl become fascinating and, more often than not, amusing. And those who praised CL for capturing life as an 11-year-old will be pleased to know that HOS continues the trend.

It took me a while, too, to remember how I wrote the first novel. With the new one, I was going over every scene with a fine tooth comb and finding it very laborious, when it hit me: On the first book I just wrote the story. I kept going and going, intent on getting the thing out of my head and onto the computer, with a view to returning to it later to embellish the descriptive parts and check the grammar. Now that I have remembered the approach, I’m doing it again on HOS. The editing and embellishing process is a real pleasure, whereas the writing of the story, even in this sketchy way to start with, is the work.

I’ll let you know when this, the hardest part, is done.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

How To Get Published - According to the London Book Fair Masterclass

The Masterclass “How To get Published”, held as part of this year’s London Book Fair, was a bit of an eye opener. Much of what was discussed I already knew, which boosted my confidence, but there were one or two pieces of information that I felt contradicted general received wisdom.

The class was attended in the hundreds, and the four speakers formed a panel on the stage, each giving a talk and taking questions from the floor.

First up was literary agent Simon Trewin. A lot of what he had to say was standard stuff – treat your approach like a job interview, list your previous successes, demonstrate that you really want to write (he even advised listing any writers courses you have been on), really sell yourself, present your work on one side of A4 with double line spacing and number the pages. It was refreshing to hear him say he would consider anyone from any background provided their writing is exceptional.

Something that had been bothering me for a good while was having to submit my work to agents and publishers one at a time because it’s considered bad form to pitch to a few in one go (in case they ring up saying they want to publish and you say you’ve already got a deal thanks). I learned from Simon that you can pitch to four or five agents at once, provided you tell them that that’s what you have done. It was such a relief to hear it, because the commonly accepted method would mean having to wait weeks and months just to hear from one organisation, and it would take a great many years to approach them all.

Another encouraging piece of advice (for me, anyway) was to send off your already published book to the agent and explain what your game plan is for sequels or your next book. Needless to say, Anne Droyd and Century Lodge will be going in the post to him and a handful of others this week!

My good friend and fellow author, Darryl Sloan, might be surprised to know that Mr Trewin cast publish-on-demand companies in a highly favourable light and specifically named Lulu.com as a good example. He also welcomed the idea of self-published authors who have had modest success backed up by sales and reviews sending in their POD book. He said they are easier to read on the tube than a lot of loose paper (i.e. manuscript). So, Darryl, my advice to you is stick a copy of Chion in the post as soon as you can.

Another thing I learned was that “no unsolicited manuscripts” does not mean you shouldn’t bother trying at all. It simply means don’t send in your submission. However, you may write the agent/publisher a one page letter describing your novel and ask if they would like to see it.

Following Simon Trewin was a representative from publisher Little, Brown, a lady called Antonia Hodgson. The most memorable thing she said (from my perspective) was that publishers tend not to look at unsolicited manuscripts. They use the agencies as a filtering system and consider what the agents pitch to them. And not everything pitched is taken on. So, for me, the focus really should be agents rather than publishers.

Tim Lott, author of The Scent of Dried Roses and The Seymour Tapes, was quite a dour fellow, but amusingly so. He said he didn’t enjoy writing at all (picking up on what Simon had said earlier – “Do it because you enjoy it”). He said having to sit down for four, five, six hours a day and try to write thousands of words is not enjoyable – it is work.

I was also surprised to find that even a successful author with a few well received books under his belt and a reputable literary agent plugging his work could still have a proposal rejected. The Strange and Somewhat Sad Story of Sadie Strongheart, a novel developed from a story he told his god daughter was turned down by several publishers before Walker Books took it on and published it as Fearless.

He was refreshingly honest and said that when his first novel was repeatedly turned down he did consider giving up and focusing on a different avenue of his life. I took some comfort from this, as I too have often seriously considered giving up. Trouble is, it only takes me to have a great idea while soaking in the bath, and then I’m saying, “I really must write that down. It would make a great book!” So, I guess I’m a real writer – I cannot stop.

Mr Lott made an interesting distinction between genre writers and original storytellers. He said if you want to make a lot of money become a genre author and just mimic whatever is popular at the moment.

He told a funny story about a well known genre writer who admitted that all he does is buy the Top Ten books on the current New York Times bestseller list, read them all, and then take the best bits an amalgamate them into a plot of his own. It’s downright plagiarism, but he gets away with it. He’s writing pap for the masses and earning a fortune from it.

But if you want to tell a story that means something special, if you want to make a point about something you see in the world, or make your reader think in a profound way, you may not make a lot of money at all. Most novelists who are committed to telling original stories never give up the day job.

The final speaker was bestselling writer Joanne Harris, known largely for authoring Chocolat. As with Tim Lott, that book was not her first venture into publishing. She had done a couple of other projects; she had a mainstream publisher and an agent to help place her work. And yet Chocolat was rejected by several companies on the grounds that British readers won’t want a book set in France. Of course, eventually it was published, and was then optioned as a movie. The movie actually got made and various aspects of the film were nominated for the prestigious Oscar award. The work is now world famous, much loved, and Joanne Harris is a household name.

She said she felt obliged to challenge Tim’s view, that writing is not enjoyable, that it is just hard work. Harris said that to her it is very enjoyable indeed. She loves it.

A point that came over quite forcefully from all four speakers is that the publishing world cannot predict trends (although they do often capitalise on existing trends). They advised prospective authors to just work hard on their books. An agent/publisher will often make their decision based on the strength of the opening paragraph. Simon Trewin said that if he reads beyond the first paragraph, he carries on until either there comes a point that he’s lost interest, or he gets so lost in the story he forgets where he is. Naturally, if your submission induces the latter frame of mind, you might well receive that much anticipated phone call.

I came out of the class with a clear plan. I will try to cultivate interest with literary agents by sending off Anne Droyd and Century Lodge, and in the interim continue with my plan to self-publish Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows if no one takes me up. There are too many people out there asking when the next one’s coming out for me to stop. And Anne is not the only card up my sleeve. There are other projects that simply must be put in the hands of the reading public.

So it’s onward and upward.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Will Aspie: "Is It Me?" (A trip to the recording studio)

Those of you who have read The Feeling’s Unmutual will know that I tried my hand at song writing during the mid-1990s. Inspired by the music and lyrics of Hue & Cry, the Moody Blues and Gary Numan, I began writing personalised verses and set them to simple but catchy synthesiser chords. Heavily into early-to-mid Gary Numan at the time, I reasoned that with a keyboard, an acoustic guitar, live drums and a girl backing vocalist, I would be able to knock out something half decent.

Unfortunately, all I had access to at that time was my own abilities as a writer, my voice, and a cheap synthesiser which I could barely play. Between 1992 and 1996 I wrote about twenty songs. My method of recording was to learn the chord patterns on the keyboard and play them with a selected sound (say piano or synth-strings) onto a cassette, play the cassette through a karaoke machine, and sing the vocal over it into a tape recorder placed by the loud speaker. The result was a very rough recording of the bare bones of a song.

While most said my lyrics were rather obvious and juvenile (and I concede that some were), there were people who actually appreciated what I was doing. The latter were usually musicians themselves.

For example, I attended a radio course, and the tutors, who loved mucking about with sound and played in a band, were very enthused by my attempts.

A few musical types on my wife’s side of the family were also motivated by them. A nephew asked if he could make the songs available to friends who would respect what I was trying to do, while another told me, “You can’t read or write music, you can’t play a keyboard properly, and you have no gear to do a decent recording. But you did it anyway. And that’s what we love about it.”

Personally, though, I was disillusioned. It aggravated me that I couldn’t even achieve what I knew were only the basic ingredients, namely keyboards, a bit of guitar, drums, a backing vocal, and a decent mix. And so, when, in October 1997, I wrote Is It Me?, I decided I wouldn’t record it until I had the means to do a good job.

Ten years elapsed before I saw a flyer on the notice board in the office where I work advertising the Quax Studios in Huddersfield, north of England. Consisting of Stuart Comins on guitars, Gary Collins on keyboards and associated electronic tricks, and Phil Brown on drums, Quax toured the local pubs playing a live set, and offered their talents for a fee in the recording studio. Bands were invited to go along and record their demo, folk singers could make a CD to distribute at their gigs, and singer-songwriters could go in with little more than a lyric and a melody, and the band would create it from scratch, layer by layer.

I sent Stuart a very rough copy of Is It Me? to give him some idea of what I wanted to do, and told him I imagined synthesisers, an acoustic guitar, live drums and a girl backing vocal. He said it could be done for £120.00 (a day’s session with musicians supplied – a day with your own band being mixed by Stuart is £80.00), but I would have to provide the girl backing vocalist. And I knew immediately who it should be.

Kelly Fry worked for a few months on my team in the office, and I discovered that she used to be the lead singer in a local band. Then one day I heard her singing to herself as she passed me on her way to the photocopier – and I knew instinctively that she would be the person I would approach, should I ever be able to record my songs properly.

She jumped at the chance, she having missed singing generally, and being more than a little curious about the recording process. I gave her the very rough demo on CD and indicated which bits needed the backing. We actually worked out the details over the phone.

Saturday the 24th of March 2007 was the big day. I arrived at the studio in Huddersfield at 9 am to find Phil Brown setting up his drum kit. He had been listening to Gary Numan’s 1980 Top Ten hit We Are Glass to get an idea of what I might want. Stuart Comins arrived at 9.30, followed by Gary Collins, his keyboards and box of tricks, at 10. Again, Gary Numan was the template for the style, but after a little experimentation it became clear that what suited the song was more New Order than Gary Numan.

I stuck to my remit of electronics and acoustic sounds blended together. Sadly we didn’t have time to put on some acoustic guitar. However, the rest of the piece was in place by midday. Phil had created a very catchy beat on the drums, and Gary had found the chords of the song, supplied a funky synth-strings sound (a combination of sounds he had programmed the night before) and even created an extra little melody to make the melody a bit more varied.

Then Kelly Fry arrived. The afternoon was spent going over and over the vocals until we got them as good as possible. Stuart was concerned that I was concentrating too much on the words and not enough on the tune. Phil agreed, observing that I was virtually talking the vocal. Favourable comparisons were made with Leonard Cohen.

As recording was finalised, Gary said it didn’t sound like anything else around. It was a bizarre mishmash of electronic music, folk lyrics, and Leonard Cohen vocals. He also felt it was unusual to have a pop/rock song in the key of C. For better or worse, I was pleased that the band thought it odd, because that meant it was uniquely mine.

When I got home I suffered a bit of self-confidence failure, believing that my contribution as singer ruined the excellent job everyone else had done. The following morning, though (after a good night’s sleep, the session was great fun but very hard work), I decided it wasn’t half bad, and by the third day I was prone to playing the record nice and loud whenever I was left alone.

A friend of mine emailed to say he had played his copy several times over, and my step-daughter liked it straight off.

For anyone interested in music and song writing, and who lives within reasonable distance of Huddersfield (and especially if you’re in a band – it will be significantly cheaper if you share the fee among yourselves), I would recommend that you spend a day with Quax.

I went in at 9 am with little more than a melody and some lyrics, and came out at 6 pm with a record. I consider it £120.00 well spent. I’ve just got to find a way of doing the rest of the album now!

Is It Me?

Written and sung by Will Aspie
Keyboards by Gary Collins
Drums by Phil Brown
Backing Vocals by Kelly Fry

Hand claps by Will Aspie, Phil Brown and Shirley Ridings

Produced by Stuart Comins

Recorded at Quax Studios, Huddersfield. 24 March 2007.

You can download the track from the Quax web site here: http://www.qwax.co.uk/electronic.html

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Most FAQ: When is "Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows" coming out?

The plot for House of Shadows was formulated soon after the first edition of Century Lodge was published by CK Publishing in June 2002. Editor Calum Kerr put in a little trailer at the end, reading, “Coming Soon – Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows”, and asked me to write a version of Chapter One that could go in as a teaser. By the time of publication, though, it was decided that the teaser shouldn’t be included because it would be necessary to gage sales of Book One before we embark on a second title.

Century Lodge featured in North West newspapers, and I was interviewed on two separate occasions by Diane Oxberry and Becky Want at BBC Greater Manchester Radio. As a result, the book topped the Bolton chart (thanks to Stella Morris and Sweetens of Bolton). Sadly, though, CK Publishing was unable to establish a national presence and decided not to pursue a sequel.

By late 2003 I was casting my net over greater waters in the hope of interesting big name publishers. At the same time, I was investigating the condition Asperger syndrome, believing the diagnostic criteria held the key to certain behavioural traits and thought patterns within my own psyche and explained a number of situations in my own life that had been puzzling me over the years. It was in 2003 that I diagnosed myself as being on the lower end of the autistic/Asperger spectrum.

During my research, I came across Jessica Kingsley Publishers, who specialise in the behavioural sciences, and submitted my autobiographical account The Feeling’s Unmutual. Almost as an afterthought, I sent them Anne Droyd and Century Lodge, believing that the central character possessed many of the traits exhibited by AS children. Jessica Kingsley agreed, and, in addition to publishing The Feeling’s Unmutual, commissioned a new edition of Anne Droyd and Century Lodge as ‘an Asperger adventure’.

The new version of Century Lodge was published in late 2004 and exhibited a photomontage of the real Century Lodge on the cover. The text was tightened up, and a Contents page was added, but generally the story remained unchanged.

The plan, as before, was to see how it sells, and if it sold well, a second adventure would be commissioned. JKP sent out books to a number of local and national newspapers, as well as various TV chat shows like Richard & Judy, in the hope that Anne would get that much needed exposure and be catapulted into the public eye.

However, it was not to be.

I received letters and emails from a steadily growing fan base. My creation was praised on a number of Asperger related web sites, as well as Amazon. But generally, the media did not respond at all. They didn’t even say it was rubbish.

And so, for a second time, my offer of a sequel was turned down. From then on I grew despondent, wondering if I shouldn’t just call it a day.

But Anne wouldn’t die. For, every now and then, an individual would email me, or a youngster would write me a letter, and each time it would close with the same question: When is House of Shadows coming out?

This, and my good friend Darryl Sloan (author of the newly released children’s adventure Chion), spurred me on to find a way of publishing the sequel without the backing of a mainstream publisher. It was Darryl who put me on to print-on-demand.

Print-on-demand companies are not publishers. They are printers. Technology has improved to such a point that it is no longer necessary to print hundreds of books and store them in a warehouse. An author can upload his latest book via the company’s web site, have it converted into a paperback template, design the cover, and make it available on demand. So, if one hundred people order the book, the company can print one hundred copies and mail them out. But, by contrast, if only two people want copies, just two copies can be printed and mailed out.

I am still hopeful that I will be able to attract a mainstream publisher. Until I do, I am ever mindful that the fans of Anne Droyd have had nothing new to read since 2002. This is a situation I feel compelled to address.

I recently created an account with print-on-demand company Lulu.com/uk. I have formatted the existing House of Shadows material (the first three or four chapters) to the standard paperback template. During the next few months I will be going over what I already have, and then I will write the rest of the book. I’m discussing what kind of cover it should have with an artist, and a designer based in the United States has found the font that was used on the second edition Century Lodge logo, which will be good for uniformity.

Assuming I can get the book written, proofread, and edited by the summer, we could be looking at an October 2007 release.

You have waited long enough!

Will H.

WELCOME!

It is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of my very own blog. My good friend and fellow author Darryl Sloan had been suggesting it for a while. I had a good look round his site and concluded that having a blog would be a significant step forward in promoting my books and keeping my readership up to date on all things Will Hadcroft.

If you've read The Feeling's Unmutual and want to carry on where the book left off, this is the place to be. If you've read Anne Droyd and Century Lodge and are waiting for news of the first of the sequels, this is where it will be announced.

I have a few projects in the pipeline.

Keep watching this space!

Thanks for dropping by.

Will H.