Category Archives: Writing

Feeling Insignificant? Read this….

I came upon this quote in the excellent Writers’ Services newsletter: 

‘It does no harm to repeat as often as you can “Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages – all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person.”‘

Doris Lessing

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So, don’t undervalue yourself. Doubt should not make an end of you. It’s only proof that you want to write the best story possible.

Writers are often quiet and self-effacing people, but to succeed these days we have to sell ourselves. There’s no escaping that. It takes effort and self-belief (and probably a website, a blog and social media ‘friends’ and followers). 

At the core of it all is the writing. If you believe in that, then maybe people of influence will too, those who feed off your talent to keep publishing running.

Rachel Carson put it well:

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If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.

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Femme Fatales

In a previous thread, we discussed Bitch Characters in fiction:

But, a femme fatale isn’t necessarily bitchy, she’s more of a predatory vamp who prowls through the lives of those she captivates, getting what she wants from them and leaving them wrecked. She’s a fatal woman to know.

My favourite femme fatale from literature is Cora from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

A contemporary example of a femme fatale is Amy Dunne, from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Image result for Amy Dunne, from Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

I’m about to start writing Kissing & Killing, my sixth Cornish Detective novel. The protagonist was grieving for his dead wife in the first four stories, but his life was turned around by the unexpected reappearance of a witness from Book 1. They’ve been corresponding since she returned to her homeland in Wyoming. He’s uncertain why she’s come back to Cornwall, but they’re mutually attracted and become lovers.

She’s less innocent than she seems, and may have an ulterior motive for getting involved with a copper. As a rebellious young woman, she acted as a getaway driver for a bank heist, in which people died. The gang was never caught. There’s no statute of limitations on murder.

My naïve country detective slowly realises how much he’s been played by a femme fatale. Does he turn her in? She’s only the second woman he’s ever loved.

Who are your favourite femme fatales from literature and films?

Have you written one?

Amazon KDP: digital and print-on-demand

Whatever you think of Amazon, as a customer or as a seller, there’s no denying their power and influence. Kindle Direct Publishing is a force that would be foolish to ignore, though I resisted fully committing to them by only using their basic KDP programme, rather than the exclusive Select operation—which pays double the royalties—but is more restrictive of the writer.

As I’ve described in other threads, I was preparing to sign with Select this summer, when a publisher I’d queried asked for a full manuscript. I’ve delayed my plans to self-publish The Cornish Detective series, but have still formatted the books for digital and POD paperback release. More of that later.

This article from The Atlantic is well-researched and worth a read, as it shows how irresistible KDP is as a publisher. It used to be, that one of the supposed stumbling blocks with KDP was that a writer’s books wouldn’t appear in bookshops, other than Amazon’s own, and supermarkets and libraries, but that’s slowly changing.

There are best-selling authors on Amazon, who you’ve likely never heard of, who outsell household names and have become millionaires from their books. But, one household name, crime writer Dean Koontz recently signed a five-book deal with Thomas & Mercer, the Crime division of Amazon Publishing. A sign of changing attitudes, surely? If a best-selling author has gone over to what was once seen as the enemy of traditional publishing, then how long before others join him?

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I’ve decided to join Select with the 45 titles I’ve had on KDP and distributed to other vendors via Smashwords and Draft2Digital for the last six years. They are volumes of poetry and song lyrics, for adults and children, short stories and novellas. This will be as much an experiment to find how Select works, as it is a way of raising income from sales. KDP promote Select books, pretty much ignoring those on KDP.

All of my thinking since 2013 has been geared towards publishing eBooks. I wasn’t driven by seeing my book in printed physical form. But, if I’m going with Select, it makes sense to join their print-on-demand option. This used to be called CreateSpace, but now goes by KDP Print. The transition since 2018 has not been without its problems, as I found when attempting to format my Cornish Detective manuscripts.

I started doing this as an optimistic move, some light relief from attempting to recover access to my WordPress website, which was making me mad, so when I encountered resistance from KDP Print I swore a lot!

The pages describing how to edit your manuscript to conform with requirements about bleed, margins, headers, pagination, trim size, section breaks, front matter, end matter and lots of other things you hadn’t thought of, are helpful.

When I first looked at the templates they provide I was mightily impressed, for with a bit of tinkering, I could adjust blocks of text on the cover to suit and it’s easy to upload the image I designed for the eBook as a cover.

I was encouraged by several instruction videos on YouTube, including this one, which shows how your book could look:

(Cover Creator part from 2.11)

Easy peasy, right? I followed the instructions, replacing the Latin placeholder text with my author bio and blurb, clicking on Save to move to the next step. Except, it didn’t save, it disappeared! I tried several more times, usually getting strange colourful horizontal lines instead of text, though sometimes nothing happened at all. Don’t you just love it, when sites ignore you?

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Fed up with big companies that promise you the world but shove you in the ditch, I searched KDP help forums, finding that many others were also facing opposition from the templates. One user mentioned having success by switching from Chrome to another browser. I tried the template in Mozilla Firefox and it worked perfectly!

Despite this glitch, Amazon encourages a writer to produce the best-looking paperback possible, by an online preview service, and also, you can order proof copies.

Have any of you published your books on KDP, Select or POD?

How did you get on?

Semicolons in Dialogue?

A while ago, I posted In Praise of the Semicolon.

I’m fond of the little fellow, but its place in writing is more restricted than I realised. I haven’t done much creative writing this year while slogging away at building this WordPress blog and a website.

From time to time, to keep my sanity, I’ve returned to a short story I started in January. Featuring my Cornish Detective, I intend to give it away to anyone who subscribes to my crime novel website. I started writing with no preconceptions, other than to explore the notion that locations can be cursed. My protagonist is several years younger than in the first novel and having just taken command of the Major Crimes Team, he’s still learning the ropes from his deputy officer, a veteran of 40 years.

They visit a place called The Sad House, an abandoned farm labourer’s cottage where a runaway teenager was found hiding. It’s been a place of murder and suicide for 200 years. Talking about the tragedies, the deputy falters telling a tale of murder-suicide. He half-finishes saying something, so I used a semicolon to mark how he completed his thoughts. It looked wrong! I changed it.

Then, that night, I was visited by the punctuation gods, for while reading a crime novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen the main character’s internal dialogue I saw it featured a couple of semicolons—and they looked clunky. It may have been a result of the original work being translated.

This morning, in one of the newsletters I subscribe to, there was an article about a newly published book all about the semicolon:

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Author Cecilia Watson

I like the anecdote about ‘The Semicolon Judge.’ The use of the semicolon in speech isn’t mentioned in the article, so I had a gander at Stack Exchange, finding this discussion:

It’s not an issue that I’m agonising over, but it’s strange how a semicolon or a colon in dialogue becomes intrusive. It takes away from a guideline I cleave to, that punctuation should be correct for the situation, so correct that it becomes invisible.

What do you think?

(Cripes, this is a writerly thing to talk about!)


As a safety valve to blow off pressure caused by designing a blog and website, using WordPress, I’ve been writing a couple of short stories.

Only visiting them once every few weeks has made the characters militant, and they’ve hijacked the plot, taking it in directions I hadn’t anticipated. One story is about a hedge witch intrigued by a newcomer to her village who appears to have arcane knowledge. I intended it to be an unusual love story with spells, curses, blessings and bindings mild enough to be printed by a women’s magazine, but it’s strayed into malevolent voodoo territory.

The other story is intended as a giveaway for subscribers to my Cornish Detective website. Featuring an early investigation by my protagonist, I planned for it to be an introduction to his characteristics and how crimes committed on the spur of the moment have consequences through the ages. Instead, a ghost of one of the victims hijacked the narrative adding spookiness.

At least these tales only wandered into a similar sub-genre, but it set me to thinking about how I could introduce bizarre elements into Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle’s investigations. He’s already tapped into lessons his farming ancestors taught him, so I could take things further. Crime writers James Oswald, James Lee Burke and John Connolly use supernatural forces to assist their main character.

I like the idea of writing a stand-alone novel based on a mashup of eras and genres:

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A mashup of cavemen meeting cyborgs could be fun.

What mashup do you fancy writing?

Baring the throat

I’ve just finished reading The Cold Dish, the first story in Craig Johnson‘s Longmire series.

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I haven’t seen the television adaptation, so don’t know how closely it mirrors the pacing and depth of the books. I was surprised at how intimate the internal dialogue of the protagonist Sheriff was, with Walt Longmire revealing his doubts and insecurities. Baring his throat made me bond with him as a character.

It’s vital to let the reader in—if you don’t share, why should they care? (That sounds like an advertising slogan!) A friendship grows not because someone is always strong, but because we love them despite their weaknesses. The same should be true of your fictional characters.

Happy to bare her throat

Infallibility might be attractive in superheroes, but in portraying the humanity of ordinary folk their missteps are more endearing than if they’re constantly triumphant.

But, what of giving the reader a peek at your character? When writing what you know, it’s likely that personal emotions will seep into the page. Fans of your writing will smile knowingly, attributing a scene featuring a quarrelling couple to your own marital breakdown. Such things are inevitable, especially if you write about sex.

In my own stories, poems and song lyrics I’ve tackled bereavement, divorce, loneliness, depression, suicide attempts, poverty, near-death experiences and acts of violence, all of which I’ve known. The reactions of my characters to these events isn’t the same as mine, but certainly informs them. Does it make my writing realistic and engrossing because it feels true? I don’t know, but I believe powers of imagination can only take a writer so far.

I’m currently reading two well-reviewed books about alternative ways of living. Being autobiographical, they offer close insights into the thinking of a disenfranchised woman living in a shed and a disillusioned man who decides to exist without technology.

Catrina Davies and Mark Boyle’s honesty is refreshing. They have no front about who they are, no deception about their circumstances. They bare their throats, say what’s in their hearts and get on with surviving by stumbling through different options. Their candour and vulnerability will affect how I portray my characters.

Being a know-it-all is a good way of losing friends and influence. I once met a young man, a computer whizz who had several IT patents to his name. At 17-years-old, he had more arrogance than discretion when boasting about computers. But, growing up in a moorland village, he wasn’t socially confident, and was nervous about going away to a city university. I advised him to occasionally admit to confusion about things, requesting help to encourage bonds with fellow students. I saw him a couple of years later, and he thanked me, for my tactic had worked!

The title character of my Cornish Detective series is going to be forced into showing his frailty in the next story, no longer able to rely on the support offered by his status as a copper, because he’s fallen in love with a woman who may have a criminal past.

How do your characters bare their throats?

Do you have any favourite fictional protagonists whose vulnerability created empathy?

I bonded with Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

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I worry about what they’re up to, even when not reading the stories!

Back up your Work!

As part of adjusting settings on this WordPress blog, I backed up what I’d already done with a plug-in widget. Hackers love attacking WordPress, so this was a wise move.

Feeling virtuous, I decided to check when I’d last saved my precious crime novel series to the cloud. I thought it was late last year, which is too long ago, considering the amount of work I’ve put in recently editing, formatting and designing book covers in preparation for self-publishing on KDP. I almost fell off my chair, when I saw that the last time I’d visited Microsoft’s OneDrive was in 2015! That meant I didn’t have copies of my last two novels.

Feeling like an idiot, I checked two memory sticks, finding early drafts of those books, but not any completed versions.

I should know better, for in 2006 my old laptop had its hard drive shattered into a hundred fragments when a lightning bolt hit the farm where I was living. It loosened huge stones in a barn wall before travelling 20 yards through the ground to my cottage. It blew two lightbulbs into pieces, as well as frying the surge protector extension lead powering my computer. I was lucky not to be electrocuted for I had the laptop on my lap at the time—my goolies could have been flash-fried—great balls of fire!

I lost 18 months of writing, research and many pictures of my cat Pushkin, who had recently died, so it was quite upsetting. That’s one of the problems with digital records, not only documents and photographs but stuff like music, where we transfer everything to our computer or iPod. If you don’t keep hard copies, you’ve lost everything.

I use OneDrive and Dropbox, but need to be conscientious about backing up my work. It only takes seconds to do and provides peace of mind.

How do you save your work?

When did you last do so?

Do it now!


I enjoy self-publishing & sending publishers rejection letters. They’re like, ‘Who is this guy?’ And I’m like, ‘the end of your industry.'”

Ryan Lilly: Write Like No One Is Reading

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Self-publishing is evergreen. Your book can always be in print via POD or available as an eBook. You can edit it, alter the cover or reissue it under a pen name.

The goal of many authors, to be accepted by a literary agent who touts your book around publishers has drawbacks you may not have thought of. A publisher can change your characters’ names, alter the plot and saddle it with a book cover design that’s ugly and irrelevant. Your newly published book has a shelf life of six weeks in a bookshop. If it doesn’t sell, it’s in the cut-price bin or remaindered, meaning it’s sent back to the publisher to be pulped.

If you self-publish, your earnings are higher than for comparable sales from a traditional publishing contract. I’m about to sign up to Amazon’s KDP Select programme, which offers 70% royalties + whatever I make from page reads as part of their Unlimited option. Even with their ordinary KDP authors are paid 35% of retail. Select means giving Amazon exclusivity for 90 days, meaning I can’t sell my books directly from my website, but I’m free to take a break from Select once the three-month period is over to go fully Indie—meaning I’d earn 100% of whatever sales I make.

Compare that to traditional publishing, which might pay an author $1-$2 for each book sold, those payments coming twice a year in arrears:

It’s odd how we admire musicians who release their records on their own labels, and we praise Indie filmmakers who get interesting projects financed and made, yet many people still look down their noses at writers who self-publish. It’s damned hard work to get everything together in a way that looks professional, as I can attest.

These days, it’s not the case that your publisher will do the bulk of the work in promoting their author clients—you’ll be expected to do all the things a self-publishing author does—establishing an online author platform, including blogging, running a website with a newsletter and posting on social media.

You don’t have a job for life with a book company. If your books don’t sell, you’ll be dropped. It’s better to be an unpublished writer, who might be the next big thing than to be shuffled aside as a failed author with a poor track record. Self-publishing is an attractive alternative. You can do so swiftly, not waiting up to two years before your book appears on a shelf. Most of the earnings are yours, not your publishers. If one book doesn’t sell well, there’s no stigma attached to you. Publish another one! You rule.

There have been some spectacular success stories for authors who started off self-publishing, such as Andy Weir, E.L. James, Adam Croft and James Oswald.

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There are drawbacks. It’s difficult to get physical copies of your masterpiece into bookshops, though the way that independent stores are reinventing themselves, including focusing on local writers, that situation is changing. Bear in mind, though, that should you manage to distribute your titles, it will be on a sales or return basis, with you paying shipping expenses. Another potential expense is paying for your book to be displayed prominently with the store. Few readers realise that the reason James Patterson novels are all over the shop, including at the till, is that his publisher has bought those spaces.

Your local library system will stock digital and POD versions of your work—a great way of getting your name known.

I’m not expecting miracles from self-publishing my Cornish Detective series with Amazon. I have six years of experience publishing on Smashwords and Draft2Digital, so I know how many authors are doing the same thing as me. Amazon does more to promote sales, but it’s still a steep learning curve.

What do you think of self-publishing?

Do you buy eBooks to read?

With your own books, is it traditional publishing only or the bottom drawer forever?

A Good News Story

From today’s Guardian, a story to encourage us all:

Adrian McKinty deserves his success. What depresses me about his story, is how, despite winning numerous writing awards, he was neglected by publishers.

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It sometimes seems to me that book companies detest their clients, failing to promote their books on the basis that they haven’t made enough money—and why should they do anything to rectify the situation?

Shane Salerno, the agent who turned McKinty’s life around, is a real powerhouse:

Imagine taking a phone call from such an influential figure!

Do you scare yourself?

I should add, do you upset, arouse, please or amuse yourself as you write a story?

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I just experienced another example of my writing unexpectedly affecting me.

I’ve been moved by my own writing only a few times, largely because I know what’s coming next, of course. I’ve penned some revolting scenes in my crime novels, including finding corpses and autopsies. There are so many facts to get right, that I’m more focused on the minutiae of decomposition and post-mortem techniques than I am with the emotions of the participants—which are muted, as they’re professionals who’ve seen it all before.

All the same, there was a scene in the first Cornish Detective story which always makes my heart beat faster. In it, a headstrong detective conceals information about a serial killer—a master of disguise—planning to arrest him alone to secure prestige and promotion. Visiting the killer’s workplace at night, no one appears to be there. Thwarted he makes for the police station, stopping to examine a nearby skip/dumpster for evidence. He disturbs a homeless Asian woman, and going to offer her help with sheltered accommodation for the night, he realises at the last moment that it’s the man they’re hunting in disguise. The detective dies. Every time I read it, I’m gripped by the danger he’s in.

Finding a way to write a sex scene for my Cornish Detective was tricky, as it had to fit into a crime story and the circumstances of the MC and his lover. I went for erotic rather than out-and-out-get-it-all-out-and-stick-it-in-there pornography! Two of my three female beta readers loved it, while the other thought it too explicit—preferring the gory details of a body being dissected by the pathologist. Impossible for me to judge if it’s sexy or not, but it’s emotional and fitted in with how my protagonist finally permitted himself to become close to another person, after running scared from intimacy for nine years of widowhood.

I was more moved by the grief of a widower in a short story I wrote about assisted suicide at the Dignitas Clinic, shedding a few tears when he finds hidden messages from his dearly departed wife.

The ghost stories I’ve written slowly build an atmosphere of dread, so I’m more aware of technique than I am horrified. However, just this evening, my skin crawled as I thought of a way to conclude a Crime short story I’m writing in a ghostly way. 

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I intend to give away a couple of tales to subscribers to my newsletter from the Cornish Detective website. I started a story in March, returning to it from time to time. The Sad House became gloomier and gloomier, possibly reflecting my own pessimism as I struggled to understand how to build a WordPress blog.

The abandoned cottage has been the scene of murder and suicide for 150 years, so much so, that it’s the first place the police search when a vulnerable adult goes missing. I had vague intentions to add a supernatural element, but couldn’t think how to do it. Out of the darkness of my subconscious, came the idea of my MC catching a glimpse of a woman watching him from an upstairs window of the deserted house. Rushing to find who it is, the detective sees a shadow disappearing into the wall followed by a plaintive wailing. I think it’s the change of senses, from him examining a historic crime scene to hearing the distress of one of the victims that gives me goosebumps.

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How have you been affected by your own writing?