Category Archives: Inspiration

I, WRITER

As I emerge from reclusiveness, to share myself and my crime novels online, it occurred to me that part of my self-promotion campaign should include personal appearances.

From reading how debut authors achieved success, one of the best ways of getting anywhere is attending literary festivals and residential training courses. It’s not as if writers, editors, literary agents and publishers wander around looking like their job or wear helpful placards hanging from their neck.

The second question commonly asked, after learning a stranger’s name, is: “What do you do?” I’ve long referred to myself as a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve done more than any other job. It’s how I’ve thought of myself, even when working in a factory, as a dispatch rider, teacher and librarian.

After being a hermit in a hovel for ten years, I’m pondering on how to be a public performer. I’m a long way from being shy—and the world of books is genteel—but how do I infiltrate it? Maybe my ambition is showing on my face, somehow, for three unexpected incidents yesterday set my brain whirring.

Firstly, I bumped into an old lover. She lives locally and though we don’t socialise, we’ve chatted amicably enough on the street. Back in 2013, when I mentioned to her that I was returning to creative writing full-time, she was dismissive, saying I’d never make money at it—which I already knew would be hard. Puzzled by her negativity, I later recalled she’d written a memoir that she couldn’t find a publisher for. This time, when she asked about my writing, she was joyful and encouraging that I’m going to begin self-publishing my Cornish Detective series this summer. A pat on the back beats a kick up the arse, so I felt buoyed up.

I wandered into the library. The assistants know I’m a writer and have been helpful offering advice about Cornwall Libraries policy on buying books by local authors. I’ve shared some of my experiences about querying agents, editing, blogging and putting myself out there on social media. The librarian smiled at the requested titles I’d come in to collect, which were three books in theFor Dummies’ series about Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads and Twitter. Although I’ve used social media for twenty years, there’s a big difference between being a casual surfer and using it to run a business. She asked if I’d be interested in talking to their readers’ group, which meets once a fortnight to discuss a set book. Sure, said I, panicking about how to describe being a writer without sounding like a merchant of doom!

Wondering if my status as a writer could grow from grassroots, I went to shop for food at the Co-Op supermarket. At the till was an employee I’ve talked to about writing. When writing my last novel, which features thieves who use a bulldozer to steal the ATM from the foyer of that very supermarket, I’d spent time eyeballing the security cameras and monitor screen hanging from the ceiling as a deterrent. The assistant looked at me suspiciously, as if I was about to rob the place, so I explained why I was being nosy.

Since then, we’ve chatted about writing and publishing, as she totalled my bill at the till. I said I was about to self-publish the first two novels, whereupon, she asked for my profile name on Facebook, offering to promote my crime series via several book groups she runs. I was very surprised. I’m hopeless at asking for help, preferring to assist others, so receiving three boosts to my efforts inside an hour gladdened my heart.

I’d better get on with things. People think I’m a writer, even I feel like I’m a bumbling impostor at times.

How do you handle being a writer with your family, friends and the public?

Interviewing your Protagonist

One way to establish the character of the main players in your story is to interview them.

Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, it’s wise to make notes about your recurring characters, to help establish a world that feels realistic. This is especially true if writing a series. Not just their physical characteristics, but likes and dislikes, including phobias, and basic stuff like their birth dates. I was four books into my Cornish Detective series when I realised I hadn’t given my MC a birthday! Fortunately, there was a gap in the timeline of the plots to have him celebrate, albeit alone, on October 4th.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is a widower. I’d written about his grieving and depression, but missed out an obvious detail—did he still wear his wedding ring? I re-edited the first three novels to put it on his finger, having him store it in a drawer in the fourth book when he’s rebuilding his personal life in a new house.

I might have avoided these omissions, had I interviewed him.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/five-questions-you-must-a_b_5852050

Taking the first question from the HuffPost article What do you do and are you good at it? Neil Kettle would respond:

“I’m a detective leading a murder investigation team. I joined the force when I was twenty-years-old, following the unexpected deaths of my parents. They wanted me to take over their sheep farm, but it wasn’t for me. Growing up there, surrounded by tranquillity made me appreciate the need for calm and order, which is what I try to restore to society as a policeman. Being a farmer’s son gave me patience and resourcefulness. I’m a grinder, never giving up until I get my suspect.”

That answer gives some idea of his background and brooding watchfulness. Also, he’s a modest man, preferring to get the job done, rather than boast about it.

Image result for detective interview suspect

Immersed in plotting, punctuation, grammar, formatting and editing, it’s very easy to lose track of who your characters are as people. I’ve read some exciting crime novels which moved at quite a pace, with intriguing clues, but the hero was two-dimensional. Readers need to bond with the goodies and the villains if they’re going to read on and search out more of your stories.

It can be strangely intimidating to imagine sitting down opposite someone you’ve created, but who’s taken on an all too real identity in your mind, haunting your waking and sleeping hours.

It may be that you don’t like them very much, that they’re aggressive or annoying to be around. I based DCI Neil Kettle on various farmers and coppers I’ve known. There are aspects of him that I share, such as his liking of art, music, reading, cats, motorcycling and nature, but I’d find him too judgemental and reserved to be a friend.

Detectives have a saying, “Believe no one”. Neil Kettle has that caution and analytical way of observing people, which would be unsettling to experience, making me feel like I’d been up to no good from the way he looked at me! 

Which of your characters would you interview?

What would they say?

Are any of your antagonists too scary to be near?

What about the sexy ones?

Apart from your own characters, which famous fictional character would you like to interview and why?

I’d like to have a chinwag with Winnie The Pooh, who’s got his priorities right, but Ewan McGregor beat me to it, thanks to making Christopher Robin.

Leaving Scenes Unfinished

In 1934, a 22yearold aspiring writer called Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked to Key West, Florida to seek advice from his hero Ernest Hemingway.
He recorded Hemingway’s thoughts on writing, storing the manuscript in a drawer, where it was found by his daughter after his death in 1981. She arranged for it to be published as With Hemingway: A Year In Key West and Cuba

While mentoring Samuelson, Hemingway offered an abundance of advice, including this tip:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

Hemingway was effectively cautioning writers not to worry about a reaching a daily word count which could become a drudge of a task, ruining their creativity.

Finishing a writing session mid-paragraph aware of where the story is going next helps momentum the next day. One’s brain works on the scene, while awake and asleep, which spurs on new ideas.

It’s a technique I’ve used many times, for after all, it’s far better to stop when things are going well than to wait until I’m stuck! I always follow Thomas Edison’s advice as part of the technique:

It’s surprising how many times sleeping on things produces great ideas.

It turns out that Hemingway’s suggestion is based on a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect. Named after Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a Russian psychiatrist and psychologist, who extrapolated from an observation her professor made about waiters—that they hold a diner’s order in their minds until the food is served.

It turns out we all remember unfinished tasks better than completed goals, which provides great motivation to complete it.

https://curiosity.com/topics/you-can-sharpen-your-memory-with-the-zeigarnik-effect-curiosity

This year, as I build an online author platform in preparation to launch my Cornish Detective novels as a self-published series, I’ve been working in fits and starts on a novella as therapy, but it’s rather backfired on me. Each time, I’ve stopped writing at interesting plot incidents, sometimes not returning to the story for a couple of weeks, which has turned it into a spiky Rubik’s Cube in my mind!

It’s a great sensation when you’re on a roll while writing, in the creative groove, firing on all cylinders and adding to your masterpiece, but that might be the time to pause for a few hours…

What do you think?

Writing for Myself

If a writer wants to keep their sanity, it’s best to enjoy the process of creating stories, at the very least. How you cope with editing and querying literary agents is another matter.

Image result for writer losing temper gif

At the moment, I’m preparing to enter the fray of social media posting and will be running two blogs—one on writing and publishing, the other more of a static website for my Cornish Detective series of novels. The first quarter of the year was eaten up with querying and editing posts I’ve made on The Colony in the last four years, which I’ll use as a basis for this Paul Pens blog.

It was repetitive work, but to provide some thrills, I began a short story that’s ballooned into a novella. I did little preparation for where the plot would go, simply starting with the premise of a widow observing an unknown male stranger dancing naked in a field on a summer day. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, but I’ve never begun a story before without any structure at all. I feel a bit like a bird returning to its nest, from time to time, as I add some more chapters. I may be travelling hopefully, with no destination in mind, but I love the journey.

Controlling the fates of characters is thrilling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ana%C3%AFs_Nin

As Anita Brookner admitted: You never know what you will learn ’til you start writing. Then you discover truths you never knew existed.

That’s what I’m finding, as I add to my novella, that is branching out in unexpected directions. While preoccupied with learning about themes, plug-ins, categories, posts and pages on my WordPress blog, I’m delighted that the creative part of my brain is quietly working away, gently nudging me with suggestions for my neglected tale of a hedge witch meeting a paranoid man with arcane knowledge that he won’t admit to.

Stories can be lifebuoys in the maelstrom of life—both in the reading and writing of them.

Recently, I read Leonard Cohen’s Stranger Music, which compiles many of his published poems and song lyrics. I liked this poem about the creative process, which gels with how I feel about why I’m writing:

The Only Poem

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

Leonard Cohen

If you’re not writing for yourself it won’t ring true.

We’re writer and reader combined.

Aren’t we?