Books as Friends

I recently borrowed two library books by favourite authors, which felt like meeting up with old friends. One is by cult author Richard Brautigan, the other by so-called Liverpool poet Brian Patten. Brautigan wrote surreal bizarre tales of misfits, and his style is unmistakable and inimitable. I’m enjoying revisiting his Dreaming of Babylon: A Private … Continue reading Books as Friends

Recommending books to friends

An article in the Guardian newspaper made me think about what books I’ve recommended, and given as presents to friends over the years. I’ve read several of the titles mentioned, and one of them Stoner is a favourite of mine. It was recommended to me by an American friend three years ago, so I borrowed it … Continue reading Recommending books to friends

Narrating Blues: Part 1

Maya Angelou said:

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.”

She’s right, but I’m damned sure that she never mastered her recordings of her books.

I’ve previously mentioned what sound equipment I bought. After several weeks of narrating, I purchased what’s called a pop screen.

My Røde microphone has a built-in pop screen, but I found that I have massive plosives (makes for a lousy pick-up line!) which intruded on the recording when I said words such as “Tart”. The accessory pop screen mutes these peaks.

Narrating and mastering the recordings of 50 chapters of an 80,000-word novel was massively time-consuming. It makes editing the manuscript feel like a picnic in the park. It took me five months to write Who Kills A Nudist? Another month to edit the story. Turning it into an audiobook has taken 14 weeks, so far, as I’m sure that I’ll hear things that still need correcting when I listen to it.

I estimate that I’ve devoted 900 hours to narrating and mastering since April as I’ve put in eight to sixteen-hour days. I haven’t done any creative writing in that time.

If you’re thinking of doing an audiobook set aside several months. It would be possible to rush the job, but it’s likely that Audible’s ACX check would reject your submission. Reading aloud is something many of us do if we have children or a loving partner, but narrating is different, requiring voice acting and pauses for emphasis and varying the pace depending on what’s happening in a scene. This is a job that takes the time it takes.

I’m glad to have turned my first crime novel into an audiobook, but, believe me, my happiness is more a sense of relief from having completed the task, rather than pride at what I’ve done. Returning to mastering each day felt like cleaning the grouting of an Olympics-sized swimming pool armed with a toothbrush. :( Trapped in an endless task, the only way out was through.

How I did it

* I set my portable recording booth atop a box on a bedside table to bring it to a level with my mouth. The microphone is connected to my laptop by the USB port. The lead is 78”/198 cm long, so it would be possible to position it away from the mic (to avoid fan noise) though that would be a stretch to operate the Audacity controls.

* Each chapter is treated as a separate sound file by ACX. I used this stipulation as a way of noting recording errors on each chapter text with a different colour. If I repeatedly stumbled over a particular word or phrase, I increased the font size.

* To minimise the chance of extraneous noises, I read from a tablet. Reading from rustling paper would be impossible, I’d imagine, as the microphone picks up on everything.

How I did it

* I set my portable recording booth atop a box on a bedside table to bring it to a level with my mouth. The microphone is connected to my laptop by the USB port. The lead is 78”/198 cm long, so it would be possible to position it away from the mic (to avoid fan noise) though that would be a stretch to operate the Audacity controls.

* Each chapter is treated as a separate sound file by ACX. I used this stipulation as a way of noting recording errors on each chapter text with a different colour. If I repeatedly stumbled over a particular word or phrase, I increased the font size.

* To minimise the chance of extraneous noises, I read from a tablet. Reading from rustling paper would be impossible, I’d imagine, as the microphone picks up on everything.


Clear your tubes out! I used Olbas Oil, Fisherman’s Friends lozenges and some Jakemans’ menthol sweets. I bought a box of the much-praised Vocalzone pastilles, but they weren’t superior and were three-times the price.

* Have water to drink nearby. Sometimes you’ll struggle with an excess of saliva, but mostly your voice will start to sound like a lizard crossing the Gobi Desert! You can pause the recording while taking on lubrication.

* Wear clothing that doesn’t rustle. This doesn’t affect me in my sweltering rooftop flat, as I become the Nude Novelist in summer, now the Nude Narrator! :rolleyes:

* Limit what you do…tackle the work in manageable stages or you’ll quickly hate what you’re doing. This will happen anyway. :mad: but, especially when starting out take it easy on your voice. My throat felt like I’d shoved a red-hot poker down it after early recording sessions.

Odd things

* The sound of your voice will bewilder you. You’ll hate it at times, though sometimes you’ll forget it’s you talking and think that your narration works very well indeed. Remember, narrating your book is part of the process of selling yourself. Some audiobook fans are drawn towards novels told by their creators.

* Narrating your book is the best way of noticing mistakes that you’ve previously missed in editing. It makes you feel like a fool. I’d edited Who Kills A Nudist? One hundred times (I kept count) and it has been enjoyed by three beta readers. Despite this, while listening to it, I found I’d misnamed the dead nudist at one point, and in another chapter, I’d sent a detective to two different places eighty miles apart!

* No one much will care that you’ve created an audiobook, although it will haunt your waking and sleeping thoughts.

* Many times, I cursed myself for writing such long sentences, as I ran out of breath yet again.

* Writing 500-word children’s books suddenly looks attractive to me.

Noises Off

Narrating and recording a book soon makes you obsessed with noise. I live in a noisy location, at a petrol station on a main road, next to the flight path to Newquay Airport and with a car repair workshop nearby. The lockdown was a blessing for me when I started recording. Since restrictions have eased, I’ve been reminded of how intrusive slamming car doors, exhaust notes and aeroplanes are. I love motorcycles, but waiting for wailing two-stroke exhaust noise to cease, as it passes through three sentences, tried my patience.

They are the noisy noises, but my sensitive mic hears things I’m unaware of while narrating, as I have earbuds in to hear my voice. Thus, when listening back, I hear:

* Knees knocking on the bedside table supporting the recording booth.

* Strange booming from brushing the mic lead with my arm.

* Breathing! Most sounds that need removing are your breathing. On the Audacity soundwave they appear as tiny vertical ‘bristles’ or little squiggles or mini sausages on the horizontal baseline. It takes many hours to delete them. Some barely make a noise, but others sound like the gasp of a drowning man!

* Rather than reach a point where I’m running out of breath and my voice is croaking, I pause and take a lungful of air, pausing before narrating again. The deep breath can be edited out.

* You’ll find that some of the tiny marks on the soundwave aren’t breaths, but the very end of words. Audacity has a scroll back feature which replaces them.

I was puzzled by a charming tinkling sound as if a silver carriage full of fairies was passing by. It occurred a few times, increasing in intensity. It wasn’t until I stopped recording, that I heard the sparrow fledglings cheeping in the wall space, as they begged for food.

With soundproofing, I think my portable recording booth is the way to go. It was affordable and does most of what a full-sized cubicle would do. That would be pricey to construct and take up a lot of space. It wouldn’t be any more protection from exhaust notes.


* If a scene has several characters use different coloured colours to delineate who’s speaking.

* I’ve seen it recommended that breathing points are marked on the manuscript, but I don’t know how that would work, as you’d have to be robotic to achieve it. NB unwanted breathing noises can be removed from the recording…you don’t have to go back to the beginning and do it all again!

* The best way of correcting mistakes is to re-record them. You might think, that as you’re still you and that your recording equipment is identical and in the same room, that you’ll sound exactly the same. It’s probable that you won’t be a precise match. Instead, you’ll sound like your younger brother or someone who could be your cousin.

* The worst thing to do is what I wasted several weeks doing: that is, to re-record snippets, a sentence or phrase. It makes the recording sound uneven. One paragraph I corrected sounded like four people were narrating it! Far better a technique, in the long run, is to re-record the entire paragraph. This cushions your slightly different-sounding voice.

*Sounds obvious, but you’re going to be dealing with lots and lots of manuscript files and sound files, so label them in the same layout, so they stay in order.


* There are thousands of helpful and dreadful advice videos on YouTube. Whatever you watch to do with Audacity and Audible make sure it’s relatively new and applicable to your version. The same goes for articles and forums

Here are some of the better ones that helped me:

Standard chain settings for ACX production – Audacity Forum

AudioBook Mastering version 4 – Audacity Forum

Booth Junkie videos

I’ve yet to listen to the ultimate version of my first audiobook. I did five editing sweeps through the whole thing, improving it each time. Sound interference I’d previously left in as barely noticeable, I removed as I became more critical. This task would be ideal for someone with OCD!

One thing that surprised me, was how long my audiobook is. Reading it silently to myself takes five and a half hours. Totalling the fifty chapter sound files makes for eight hours and twenty minutes.

The next task is to scrutinise the ACX requirements and upload my talking book to Audible. I’m not expecting a leap in sales, but it may help to spread my name as an author. Writing is a terrible way of making money. If I’ve devoted 900 hours to the audiobook and I charge £20 or £15 for it…my hourly income is laughable.
I am dreading turning Book 2 The Perfect Murderer into an audiobook, as it’s 139,000 words long! I may join the French Foreign Legion instead. :camel:

If anyone needs any advice, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can remember what I did.



One of the hooks that drags a reader into a story is a What would you do, if? situation.

Reading fiction enables one to see the world through different eyes. A skilful author makes the reader empathise with the characters—and that can be done whether they’re good or bad. A serial killer with crippling rheumatism is a lot more interesting than a super-fit assassin.

Once the reader is intrigued by the fate of the protagonist they become invested in what happens when a dilemma is dumped into their lap.

The detective hero of the book I’m reading at the moment, Ray Celestin’s The Axeman’s Jazz, which is set in New Orleans in 1919 is hunting a serial killer. His dilemma is that he’s breaking race laws, for he’s hiding a black wife and their two children. He could be fired and prosecuted at any moment. Various police officers and members of the Mafia know about his marriage, so he’s constantly worried.

I gave my Cornish Detective the dilemma of learning that his new lady love was innocently involved in a bank robbery thirty years ago. It’s a cold case now, but she could still be arrested. Does he lose the only chance of romantic happiness he’s had since being widowed eight years ago, by turning her in?

Nora Ephron’s script for When Harry Met Sally contains a dilemma that has sparked debate about friendships between the sexes—can they be free of sexual interest?

I intend to tear at the heartstrings of my readers with my WIP. Art Palmer has been a solitary man since the American Civil War ended two years before, feeling like he’ll never be anything more than a killing machine. His fiancée died of influenza a year before the war started. Arriving at his sister’s ruined plantation, he meets a woman who revives his dormant passion. It will be a mutual love at first sight encounter. Art will feel conflicted, as his grand plan is to travel to the Rocky Mountains to become a fur trapper. Fate will intervene—fate is usually a cruel bitch—fate will decide things for him. He’ll be left with an awful “but what if?” feeling of loss. What a brute I am! 😈

I think it’s important to not get so involved with our characters that they don’t suffer.

Dilemmas propel the action in some great novels. Think of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, where Sophie had to choose which child to send to the gas chamber.

 The moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment hinge around whether he can compensate the world for murdering an unscrupulous pawnbroker by performing great deeds once he’s free of debt.

In M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, a childless married couple have to decide whether to claim a baby that washes up in a boat at their lighthouse as their own. The wife has had two miscarriages and one stillbirth.

Of course, the author doesn’t know the answer to a dilemma. What makes a dilemma compelling is that it often involves a choice between right and right. The reader should feel haunted.

Do you have any favourite dilemmas in fiction?

What dilemmas have you given your own characters?

Who Do You Love?

A recent report from the sometimes murky book world shows how fascinated journalists and researchers are about the love lives of writers.

The poet T. S. Eliot had an unhappy first marriage, which he credited with having inspired him to write The Waste Land.

His second marriage was happier, but this hasn’t stopped speculation about his love life. Princeton University Library has made a collection of 1,000 of Eliot’s letters available to researchers. Some were sent to a woman he declared to be his muse, but who he denied was ever his lover.

This made me wonder about what researchers would make of my love life, should I ever achieve any fame from my books. With emails, one’s outpourings are permanently available…they’re never truly deleted:

There are no clues to my love affairs in the dedications of my five completed Cornish Detective novels, which are to six female friends and one male friend. All were supportive to me while writing.

Who do you love?

Will researchers be able to tell?

C. S. Lewis wrote a charming dedication to his goddaughter, Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:

Are Writers Attractive?

I came across an answer to a question in my Quora feed, which set me thinking. The supposition is that women find writers attractive, and, presumably vice-versa:

Why do women find writers attractive? – Quora

I don’t write to be fanciable:kiss-mark:, more because the stories are in me and insist on coming out. But, thinking of qualities shown by a potential mate, her being a writer would be desirable to me. At least I’d know something of why she was behaving in that strange way from my own experience!

Reading through Derreck Frost’s list, I realised that I’ve done several things that he claims make a writer attractive. I’ve dedicated books to female friends, based two recurring characters on close friends (with their permission) and talked about my writing in emails. This has resulted in useful feedback, so I knew I wasn’t waffling and boring them.

Margaret Atwood was dismissive of readers seeking out writers:

Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.”

Nevertheless, publishers choose the best-looking photograph of their author clients to adorn the book jacket…sometimes, these shots are twenty-years-old. Attractive people sell commercial products better than uglies.

We decided Writers Are Sexy! in an old thread, but are we more attractive than ‘normal’ people?

How irresistible do you feel?

I wanna be adored

Apologies to The Stone Roses for stealing the title of one of their songs from their breakout album, which I acquired yesterday at a car boot sale. I hadn’t listened to it for a while, but I wanna be adored made me think about how we sell ourselves as writers. Lead singer Ian Brown wrote the song to admit that he’d sold out, by going for a more commercial sound—to be liked by more music fans.

In the 21st-century, we’re expected to share details of our lives as part of the process of marketing our writing. Having a blog and a website devoted to our books is practically compulsory, expected by one’s literary agent, publisher and readers. And, what about your social media posts, where you scintillate and captivate new readers?

No one likes a grouch, however good their writing. You have to play nice, at least occasionally when interviewed, if you’re going to improve sales of your books. Some people are naturally charming while retaining a depth of intelligence that shows they’re not being smarmy. I think of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley and Jeanette Winterson when I say this. I’m sure that you can think of other examples of accessible authors who you enjoy hearing talking about the creative process.

I’ve spent most of 2019 building an author platform, attempting to come across as nice, for want of a better word, as well as someone worth reading. Having spent the last decade living in a flat at a petrol station, socialising and dating not at all, my life has been devoted to reading and writing. I have lots of imaginary friends! :rolleyes: The concept of being adored is laughable, but whether I self-publish my Cornish Detective series or I get picked up by Hodder & Stoughton’s The Future Bookshelf publishing opportunity, I need to ingratiate myself with potential readers.

Some will hate my books, others will think them OK, while a few may adore them. And me?

It would be a strange situation to be in, where your fans believed in you more than you believed in yourself, demanding more and more from you.

Best not to take yourself too seriously. Neil Gaiman put it well in an interview:

You have a very open relationship with your fans.”

“Yes. We have an open relationship. Obviously, they can see other authors if they want, and I can see other readers.”

Do you want to be adored?

Gauging Progress

We’ve looked at what constitutes success in a few old threads, including these:

But, I was recently reading an article by writing guru Jane Friedman, where she said that “The only true measure of a book’s success is sales”.

Strictly speaking, she’s correct, for any artist creating a piece of work to be sold to the public is entering commerce. Films are judged by their box office receipts, paintings become treasures by reaching stratospheric auction prices, a musician’s sales are proof of their talent (or their publicist’s marketing skills), so why shouldn’t a writer’s progress as a writer be measured by sales?

But, that ignores the writer’s relationship with their stories, the struggle they went through to get the ideas onto the page. It’s an achievement to write a book. Many say that they want to, but do nothing about it. We work alone, though the support of friends, family and writing group members is a comfort. But, we’re still alone, unsure of where we’re going, so how do we gauge our progress?

Looking at my efforts since I returned to creative writing in 2013, I’ve typed about 2,000,000 words, some of which worked as story-telling. I’ve self-published 48 titles of short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics, arousing little interest in readers. I’ve completed five novels in my Cornish Detective series, querying agents 750 times, which has increased the depth of my hide. I may finally have piqued the interest of a publisher, who asked for a full manuscript this summer. I’m waiting on them. I’m ready to self-publish on Amazon’s KDP Select should they say ‘No’.

I’ve also started this writing blog and a website devoted to my Cornish Detective. Somehow, that didn’t feel like progress, more like putting scaffolding into place for a house of stories that few may visit.

I’m not sure if I’m sanguine or cynical about the business of publishing. I do know that it’s best not to take myself too seriously when receiving rejections.

I love writing stories. It’s joyful for me. In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about technique and punctuation, which is progress, but for me, it’s the reactions of readers that show how I’ve improved.

Three of my friends offered to be beta readers of a novella about assisted suicide, and all cried at the same point (Yes!), which made me tear-up too and I knew what was going to happen!

I wrote humorous poetry for infants, which made the daughters of a friend laugh and start writing their own poems. Blimey, I’m influential! A short story I wrote was satisfying to one reader, as it ended exactly as she hoped, which was my intention. It’s great to surprise readers, but there are times when they crave the predictable.

Not to forget, that writing stories creates a fresh identity for you, which is real progress keeping you interested in who you are and arousing curiosity in others. Anyone who produces a book is infinitely more intelligent and sexier than they were before!

Huge sales of your books would be fantastic, but it’s the human reactions that really matter. Isn’t it?

How do you gauge your progress as a writer?

By blogging or communicating on social media?

By contributing to a writing group?

By typing 5,000 words daily?

By getting a response from readers?