More podcast goodness for your ears (and mind…)

We’ve had two cracking – a very different – episodes of the Bestseller Experiment recently. First up is a report from The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Leeds where I spoke to Rhoda Baxter, Nicola Cornick and Sheila Crighton (aka Annie O’Neil) about all sorts of love including instalust, passionate blur and the scale of hotness. And it was great to finally meet Rhoda Baxter (aka Jeevani Charika), who also proved the Lego image above! Listen to the podcast here.

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Rhoda (Jeevani) and me at the RNA

This week’s podcast features John McGhie, an investigative journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and the Observer. John and I met on Whitstable beach at the peak of the football world cup at what felt like a brief moment of optimism in an otherwise politically depressing 2018. We cheer ourselves up by talking about the historical atrocities chronicled in John’s excellent new book White Highlands! No, really, it’s a fascinating episode and we cover writing historical fiction in some detail. Listen here.

And if you want to know more, the documentary that inspired John’s book can be seen here…

And last but by no means least I was once again on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent in the conversation slot. We chatted about YALC, YA fiction, The End of Magic, podcasts, soundtracks and I even wheel out my Sean Connery impression. You can listen here and for my bit skip forwards to 2 hours and 11 minutes…

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Here are links to stuff I talk about on the shows below…

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Where’s my bloody book?! (part two) – An update on The End of Magic…

After a bit of a lull over the summer, my new fantasy novel The End of Magic has survived the edit and is now with the copy editor Lisa Rogers.

“What the hell is a copy editor?” you may ask… Well, after working on structural and character stuff with Simon, we now move onto what is sometimes also called the line edit, where another editor goes through the book line-by-line and looks for errors in grammar, punctuation and continuity. Even the most diligent author will miss stuff and we all go wordblind after a while, so it’s essential to get a fresh pair of eyes to give it a thorough going over.

I was determined to get Lisa for two reasons.

  1. I worked with her on Robot Overlords and she’s blimming amazing and has incredible knowledge of science fiction and fantasy and has a brain roughly the size of a planet.
  2. She’s a wonderful human being and we should all work with wonderful human beings whenever we get the chance.

This should all be sorted in the next month or so, and then we move onto the proofread and maybe… just maybewe might have news on a release date.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to dip in before the main event I have a free short story/prequel to the novel available when you sign up to my newsletter here.

And if you haven’t pre-ordered The End of Magic, you can do it here and there’s still time to get your name in the book along with some other cool extras! And here’s me pitching it on a windy day…

Till next time,

Mark

Put these in your ears…

Safer than Q-tips and a lot more educational and edifying, you can hear me waffle on not one, not two, but three podcasts this week!

First up, of course, is the Bestseller Experiment where I speak to the wonderful Pernille Hughes about her road to publication, why she shared a photocopier with La-La the Teletubby, and we play a game called ‘Getting to know you’ where there are no right answers. You can listen here.

Secondly, comes the second part of an epic three-part trilogy on The Hero’s Journey that I’m recording with the wise and learned Julian Barr. We look at tricky middle acts, inmost caves, and that sort of stuff with examples from The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars and The Notebook. But the best part of these is the thoughtful, polite noise Julian makes when I say something stupid… These are for our Patreon supporters, but if you’re not one of them (and if not, why not??), then you can listen to a sneaky peek here.

And third is this interview with Tim Clare on the Death of 1000 Cuts podcast. This is especially fun as Tim laughs at most of my jokes, I drop some truth bombs about marketing and publishing, and then a fire alarm goes off during the interview and Tim keeps it in. You can listen on iTunes here, or the thingy below…

 

What I Did On My Holidays

I’m now fully rested after a week or so off from the usual routine of commute/write/day job/commute/write/fall asleep in front of the TV. The family and I explored Kent, the county we moved to a little over a year ago. We found castles, wind farms, sea forts, crypts, a submarine, a shell grotto, and an ossuary with skulls lining the walls:

 

For more photos pop over to my Instagram here.

The podcast continues, however, and we’ve had some cracking episodes. I talk about determination with Cally Taylor, we had a very lively Youtube Live Show with my agent Ed Wilson where we talked very frankly about authors’ earnings and where all the money really goes, and last week we had Sam Missingham on a show entitled A Massive Boot Up The Arse For Publishing, which got an amazing reaction online.

The Deep Dive episodes for Patreon supporters continue with Federica Leonardis and I talking about romcoms, and Julian Barr joining me on an epic three parter to look at The Hero’s Journey.

I was back on BBC Radio Kent with Dominic King, where we talked about authors’ income (it’s the hot topic, dontcha know!), crowdfunding, and the RNA Conference. Click here to listen and skip forward to the 2 hour 12 min point.

And if you’re feeling stuck, here’s an excellent video from award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick on writers’ block. I think we can all find something useful here:

 

Until next time!

The End of Magic edit update

Over lunch today I finished the latest phase of the edit. I’ve been picking away at my editor Simon Spanton’s notes (over 350 suggested changes and comments) for a little over three weeks now.

I started with the easy stuff, namely all the extraneous crap marked ‘Delete’ by Simon. Suggestions to re-word awkwardly phrased sentences, clarity where there was confusion, repetitions…

… and a whole section where I had a character eating stew from a plate instead of a bowl (d’oh!). I find this is a nice warm up before the main event, and a good way to reacquaint yourself with a book that you might not have looked at for weeks or even months.

There was a whole debate about rats on a ship, how fast a ship would sink, and how many lashes with a cat ‘o nine tails would kill a man (Simon is an extremely genial and friendly chap, but knows an awful lot about naval punishment).

We went back and forth on the size of armies, weaponry, lethal farm tools (who knew that the cutting edge of a scythe blade was on the inside of the curve? Simon did, thankfully), dog bites, poisons, rats, crops, injuries, the efficiency of messenger pigeons, the physiology of merpeople…

… putting a saddle on the back of a wyvern, and the mental and physical cost of using magic.

There were a few moments where my characters rushed into action without much thought of the consequences and it was great to have the opportunity to dig a little deeper and think about why they made those impetuous decisions.

It’s been fun if hard and intense work, but there’s no question that it’s improved the book. And it’s not over yet! I’m sure Simon will have a few more notes for me, and then we’ll move onto the copy edit where it gets really forensic.

I’m hoping to have a revised version of the opening chapter that I can share with you soon, in the meantime thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far, and if you’ve not yet pre-ordered you can do so here.

“Stick a bloody great sword on the front…” and other fantasy fiction cover art thoughts

To distract myself during the edit of The End of Magic, I’ve been indulging in cover art fantasies, wondering what wonderful images might grace the cover of my novel.

I’m quite old-fashioned in my tastes, so if it were down to me the cover would look something like this…

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Cover art by Geoff Taylor

Look at that! I mean look at it… You could just step through and join the adventure.

I have very fond memories of escaping into the Belgariad series in my youth and these covers for the UK Corgi editions blew my tiny young mind, but it’s not the ‘80s and I need to think commercially and not indulge in nostalgia.

But if you fancy a wallow here’s my Pinterest board…   

The key retailer for fantasy fiction in the UK is Waterstones who, along with the indies and libraries, are great for spreading word-of-mouth so my cover art will need to appeal to them. I just happened to be near Waterstones in Piccadilly with my daughter Emily and we decided to see what covers had been picked by the staff to adorn their tables. What follows is a fairly random selection of covers that caught my eye…

GODSGRAVE

Design by https://www.micaelaalcaino.com/

Illustration by https://kerbyrosanes.com/

There’s a lot going on here – there’s a wolf, there’s a crow, there’s a sword, ooh, a cat! – but it’s very striking and the combination of black and blue on white works really well, especially on a table piled high with mostly black and red covers. You want your book to jump off the table, catch the eye, and this one certainly did that. I particularly like the bold shoutline, “Conquer your fear… buy one get one half price.” It’s rare to see such brazen marketing in fantasy these days.

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A DEMON IN SILVER

Design by http://cameroncorneliusdesign.com/

Who doesn’t love a glowing sword (that’s got tangled in some curtains)?! Again, this really caught my eye, though it maybe a little too YA for my book

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THE GREY BASTARDS

Cover illustration by http://rostant.com/illustration/

Design by Duncan Spilling https://uk.linkedin.com/in/duncan-spilling-39a0a05

Ooh, he looks mean… and a bit pale and peaky. Oh no, wait. He’s an orc! Excellent. It’s a little too moody for my book and feels more of a US cover than a UK one though not too American for Waterstones, clearly…

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Here’s the US cover for the curious…

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A GATHERING OF SHADOWS

Design by https://twitter.com/julialloydJLD

There’s lots to like here: The placing of the author’s name and title could have been a right old mess, but it really works here along with the review “Fantastic”, which is exactly what you want for a fantasy book! I want to avoid swords and daggers on the cover of my book (there’s a fair amount of swordplay, but it’s not that kind of book), but I loved the combination of red, black and white.

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NEVERNIGHT

Design by https://twitter.com/ccbookdesign?lang=en

Illustration by https://kerbyrosanes.com/

Same series/author/illustrator as Godsgrave, but I can’t resist that black on white styling. Looks great on the table and we all love birds, birds, birds on the cover…

 

… okay, maybe there are too many at the moment. Maybe lay off the birds for the time being? My book has a few messenger pigeons, but not crows or ravens… Hey, maybe fantasy pigeons will be the next big trend? … No, maybe not…

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THE CORE

Bloody hell! The stuff of nightmares looking straight at you on this one.

Another illustration from http://rostant.com/illustration/ though this was based on a “Demon model” by http://millenniumfx.co.uk/ who make models for Hollywood movies.

I bet that wasn’t cheap!

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ASSASSIN’S FATE

Design: http://www.dominicforbes.co.uk/

Illustration: http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog/cover-story/

Calligraphy: http://www.stephenraw.com/

Much more like it, but all those specials like gold foil cost a lot of money – only the big brand authors get that kind of treatment – and they credit a calligrapher! Pricey and most likely way out of my budget…

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THE DEATHLESS

Design: http://www.dominicforbes.co.uk/

Illustration: https://www.artpad.org/

Striking in its simplicity and memorable. I keep noticing it in stores and online. Too sombre in tone for my book, but great cover art with a sense of epic scale.

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A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS

Illustration: https://www.toddlockwood.com/

I really like the tone of this one. A classic case of I would buy this book just on the basis of the cover… and we all want a cover like that, don’t we? And the diagram points make it feel like a book that may exist in the world of its own fiction. I have griffins and wyverns in my book, but they’re not as central to my story as they are here.

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ROTHERWEIRD

Design: http://www.leonickolls.co.uk/

Illustrations: http://www.sashalaika.com/

I’m getting a Rivers of London meets The Witchfinder General vibe from this, and a great sense of location. It’s not quite right for my book, but I’m filing it away for another project.

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LADY OF MAGICK

Design: Christina Griffiths http://www.bookdeluxe.net/section216431.html

Ooh, a book with the word ‘Magick’ on the cover (albeit spelled differently). Emily picked this one out. It may be a bit too YA for me, and there’s another bloody bird on the cover, but this is simple and striking and not the usual swords and dagger stuff.

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BLOOD OF ASSASSINS

Design and images: https://the-parish.com/

I like this a lot and yes that’s the author RJ Barker on the cover! (I’ve since learned that this is a lie, but I’m going to leave it here to show the world that RJ Barker is a great big fibber!)

Again, a bit too moody for mine but I really like the design.

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Conclusions…

I’m thinking something bright and clear with a lightness of tone. Maybe a cross between Godsgrave and A Gathering of Shadows. A lapis moon plays an important role in the story, so I like the combination of blue on white, but I also really love the dragon on the Marie Brennan… Maybe I should just shoehorn a ton of dragons in….? Gah!! So much to think about.

However, fancy-schmancy covers don’t just design themselves and to get something amazing will require a budget, so if you want to help me top-up please pre-order The End of Magic here.

Of course, there are plenty more books out there by amazing designers. Which are your favourites? Let me know below…

The edit has begun… Does anyone know anything about the genitals of merpeople?

The email from my editor Simon Spanton pinged into my inbox on Sunday evening. The edit for The end of Magic had arrived.

This is both a thrill and a moment of panic for the writer. The waiting is over and we can finally start on the final phase of the book before it is published, but this is also when we discover what our editor really thinks of it. Simon’s email alone was several thousand words long with a breakdown of what he liked and what needed work. It was clear, thorough and very encouraging.

The document itself is marked up with comments throughout. Structurally, the book is in good shape. No major cuts needed, no tone problems, and he identified an issue with the protagonist that has been eluding me since the beginning! This is everything a writer wants from an editor.

Of course, there are problems…

I have a character eating soup from a plate (messy)

I’m vague about the size of two armies in battle

I use the word ‘limestone’ fourteen times! (Who knew?)…

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I have a character unable to swim one minute, and then happily treading water the next

And there’s this moment with a scythe…

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Simon is great on military and historical accuracy, particularly anything naval. He’s picked me up on how many lashes a character has to endure, and the best way to survive a sinking ship.

Oh, and I have to make a crucial decision about the genitals of merpeople… Y’know, basic fantasy stuff.

Also, the short story I wrote to accompany the novel (available to all newsletter subscribers for free!) made me realise that I needed to change the timescale of a bit of my world’s history, so that will need to be threaded through the novel.

In all, I had about 320 comments and notes from Simon. I’ve spent the first few days triaging the easy stuff. The “delete this”, “trim that” suggestions, and the silly continuity errors and tiny plot holes. Now I have to knuckle down and do some serious character work, but I’m happy to do it because I know it will make the book so much stronger as a result. Also, this is my third novel, so going through the process a couple of times already has reassured me that the book won’t fall to pieces during the edit.

I reckon this will roll on for a couple of weeks and there might be even more revisions after that, and then we need to start thinking about the copy edit. Still a little way to go, but it promises to be fun!

PS. I also got a reader’s report on my middle grade novel Raygun (though that title will almost certainly change) from Karen Ball at Speckled Pen. Much like Simon’s edit notes, they nailed all the book’s issues, but have also inspired me to make some positive changes. I’ll be getting my teeth into that next. If you have a children’s novel that needs detailed and informed feedback, then I highly recommend Speckled Pen!

 

My current favourite podcasts

I’ve blogged about my favourite podcasts for writers before, but today I wanted to bang the drum for the other stuff I let into my earholes to on a weekly basis, and how it inspires me as a writer

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Ancient History Fangirl is a gleeful run through the ancient world’s most gory bits. Every fortnight Genn and Jenn regale us with tales of sieges, cannibalism, war elephants and flaming pigs used as munitions. Almost every episode I find myself taking notes for some future story. The presenters’ enthusiasm is infectious and they’re already developing a nice line in running gags and in-jokes.

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The Filmmakers’ Podcast (yes, I’ve added the apostrophe even if they’ve recklessly abandoned it) is essential for any aspiring filmmaker, especially if they live in the UK. The presenters, led by the very charismatic Giles Alderson have walked the walk in indie low-budget film and their passion shines through. A recent two-parter with actor Timothy Spall and director Stephen Cookson talking about how they developed the film Stanley, A Man of Variety is inspiring stuff and a great place to start.

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I probably look forward to my weekly dose of Smershpod more than any other, simply because of the number of times it has had me weeping with laughter when I’m supposed to be doing something constructive. Each week the wonderfully dry John Rain and a guest discuss either a Bond movie, or a movie with a tenuous connection to the Bond world. They’ve almost run out of Bond films (just Spectre to go), but my favourites have been the side episodes, with Meteor and Highlander being among my favourites, and I would not have discovered the classic horror flick Death Line (aka Raw Meat) were it not for Smershpod. Even if you hate Bond films (and a fair few of the guests do!) I would heartily recommend this weekly pleasure.

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If your memories of ’80s movies are all Goonies and Ghostbusters, then you’re in for a shock. In ‘80s All Over, presenters and esteemed film nerds Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg trawl through every US release in the 1980s month-by-month, a boy there was a ton of crap released back then. Each episode is thoroughly researched and full of surprises and forgotten gems that you’ll want to watch (only to find that it’s only available in the bloody States). Their knowledge is second-to-none and though they’re currently suffering through the hell that is 1983, they have the joys of 1985 still to come.

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If you love movie soundtracks as much as I do, then we still have some way to go to meet the passion of Edith Bowman. Edith can sometimes be heard as a stand-in presenter on the Kermode and Mayo Film Review (another great podcast, but one that hardly needs introduction, surely?), but with Soundtracking she talks to actors, directors and, crucially, composers about their work and their favourite film scores. One of my favourite recent episodes featured the lovely Garth Jennings, and Edith also compiles a Spotify playlist for each episode. Every week, something new gets downloaded to my iPod.

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Film Stories with Den of Geek‘s Simon Brew is the newest podcast – only two episodes released at the time of writing and I already love it. Simon is a delightful and enthusiastic presenter, and the podcasts are like gossipy chats with an old friend. He’s covered the tumultuous productions of The Addams Family, Tomb Raider, Patriot Games and Dirty Dancing and they’re choc full of great movie stories. I hope this one runs and runs.

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And finally an honourable mention for Junkfood Cinema with Brian Salisbury and C. Robert Cargill. Not one that I listen to every week, but they cover the films that no one else does. This gets a thumbs up for the episode on Sneakers alone. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only person who still loves that film.

Agree? Disagree? What are your favourites? Let me know below…

Oh, and don’t forget my podcast The Bestseller Experiment! Subscribe now and get scribbling.

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Never meet your heroes (except when they’re awesome)

The podcast is a real treat this week as I got to interview a couple of my TV writing heroes. Rob Grant is co-creator of the legendary science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf, and Andrew Marshall is probably best known for the sitcom Two Point Four Children, though my favourite show of his was a black comedy he co-wrote with David Renwick called If You See God, Tell Him… It was so pitch black that it was only ever screened once, here’s a horrifying trailer…

 

Rob and Andrew have been working on The Quanderhorn Xperimentations. A very funny parody of The Quatermass Xperiment, which they’ve produced as a BBC radio comedy and as a novel. I was lucky enough to speak to them at the MCM Comic Con in London recently and it was like my own personal comedy writing masterclass. Luckily, I recorded it for you, dear listener, so you can hear the podcast here, which includes an exclusive clip from the audiobook.

There’s a busy month ahead on the podcast, and we have some fantastic authors, including a 90-year-old eBook pioneer. Here’s a quick trailer…

 


So don’t miss out and subscribe on your podcatcher of choice!

Also this week I interviewed Sam Missingham. She runs Lounge Books, which provides expert marketing advice for authors both indie and trad for £10 per month. The episode is absolutely fascinating and won’t go live for about a month, but our Patreon supporters will be getting the episode later this week. It’s so good I want them to hear it right away (once Dave has done the editing bit!). Check out our Patreon page here.

Oh, and I’ve had a few people tell how sorry they are that they missed the crowdfunding for The End of Magic. To them, and to you, I say YOU CAN STILL PRE-ORDER THE BOOK AND GET YOUR NAME IN IT AND ALL SORTS OF OTHER COOL STUFF. Just click here and hit “Pledge” – thank you!

Scrivener Features: Auto-Complete

Very handy tip for any screenwriters using Scriv…

Kay Hudson

I stumbled across the Auto-Complete function the other day when I was doing a menu-crawl around Scrivener’s nooks and crannies.  It’s not the same as Auto-Correct, which I’ve had to turn off.  Either Auto-Correct is too imaginative or I am: when I had the feature turned on, Scrivener kept changing my characters’ names and “correcting” other words that I didn’t notice until I reread my pages.  Or worse, until I read them to my critique group.

Auto-Complete, on the other hand, only does what you’ve told it to do, offering up long or difficult-to-type words or phrases when you type the first letter.  For novelists, I imagine this would most often be character or place names.  In my collection of unpublished novels, I have a parallel worlds tale set partially along a Texas Coast dominated by the Aztec Empire.  Tenochtitlán popped up from time to time, and I was glad…

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