A New Mad Challenge! — Marketing a Book on Youtube

You know how I like a ridiculous writing challenge (see last year’s disastrous attempt to sell a thousand copies of The End of Magic by burning money on Amazon ads), well here’s the latest… As you may know, my new book The Crow Folk will be published in February 2021, and I’m going to be using Youtube to drive awareness/pre-orders and good vibes.

I’ve been spurred on by my old chum Jeremy Mason, a filmmaker of great talent and experience, who has been dabbling in the dark arts of Youtube Marketing. He will be my guide and we’ll be chronicling this in real time over the next three-and-a-bit months.

If you’re a writer who wants to use Youtube to build your readership, then grab your popcorn and join us on this adventure. It could end in glory, or be another of my celebrated car crashes…

The Crow Folk Book Trailer

Thanks to Kai Newton for the camera and edit, Dominic Currie for the music, Emily Stay for directorial assistance, and George Stay for putting on the costume in such stifling heat. And apologies for my scary lockdown hairdo…

Transcript (or click on the Youtube CC button for subtitles):

“England June 1940. Three bickering witches are the only thing standing between us and the evil forces of the supernatural. Oh, and there’s a war on. The Witches of Woodville chronicles the wartime adventures of three witches. Faye Bright is an apprentice who learns about magic from a book left by a late mother. She’s helped by the prim and proper Mrs Teach and the enigmatic Miss Charlotte, and they all live in the village of Woodville, deep in the heart of the Kent countryside. The village is besieged by the Crow Folk. Living scarecrows led by the charismatic Pumpkinhead. Faye must unite the Witches of Woodville,using her magic, wits and some aggressive church bell-ringing. The witches will argue and drive each other mad, but they will remain resolute as our last defence against supernatural evil.”

And here’s where you can order it in paperback and eBook (audio will be coming too!)…

Waterstones UK

The Book Depository for free international postage and packing

Support your local UK indie bookshop and order from The Hive

Blackwells

Amazon UK

Kobo

Apple

A note for readers in the USA and Canada:

We haven’t sold the North American rights yet, so your best bet is to order via The Book Depository. They offer free postage and packing worldwide.

Stay tuned for more reveals about the book soon!!

The Crow Folk are coming…

My new book The Crow Folk is coming on 4th February 2021, and here’s the gorgeous artwork…

Here’s the blurb…

For fans of Lev Grossman and Terry Pratchett comes this delightful novel of war, mystery and a little bit of magic…

As Spitfires roar overhead and a dark figure stalks the village of Woodville, a young woman will discover her destiny…

Faye Bright always felt a little bit different. And today she’s found out why. She’s just stumbled across her late mother’s diary which includes not only a spiffing recipe for jam roly-poly, but spells, incantations, runes and recitations… a witch’s notebook.

And Faye has inherited her mother’s abilities. 

Just in time, too. The Crow Folk are coming. Led by the charismatic Pumpkinhead, their strange magic threatens Faye and the villagers. Armed with little more than her mum’s words, her trusty bicycle, the grudging help of two bickering old ladies, and some aggressive church bellringing, Faye will find herself on the front lines of a war nobody expected.

Fall in love with the extraordinary world of Faye Bright – it’s Maisie Dobbs meets The Magicians

And here’s where you can order it in paperback and eBook (audio will be coming too!)…

Waterstones UK

The Book Depository for free international postage and packing

Support your local UK indie bookshop and order from The Hive

Blackwells

Amazon UK

Kobo

Apple

A note for readers in the USA and Canada:

We haven’t sold the North American rights yet, so your best bet is to order via The Book Depository. They offer free postage and packing worldwide.

Stay tuned for more reveals about the book soon!!

Rewrites ago-go (and other updates from the writing desk)

You may recall that I have a movie on the way! The last few months have seen some fun and frantic rewrites prompted by the usual pre-production budget and scheduling shenanigans. During all this I’ve seen concept art, storyboards, set designs, creatures and all kinds of exciting stuff. I’m hoping to be on set soon (once I get my COVID test results) and I reckon I might have some fun stuff to reveal to you all… 

New Books…

Apologies for being so cagey, but I do have a new book series on the go… It hasn’t officially been announced yet, so I’m not how much I should tell you, but if you were to, say, click here you might find out a little more…

I’ve just finished a draft of the second book in the series and it’s going out to a couple of trusted readers for their brutal feedback. I’ve also been shooting a trailer for the first book in the series. I hope it conveys the fun spookiness of the books, though I suspect the scariest thing in it is my lockdown hairdo. Here’s a still from the video and I hope to have the finished edit for you soon…

“Keep ’em peeled…”

The Bestseller Academy

The other thing that’s been keeping me off the streets is The Bestseller Academy. The brainchild of my co-presenter and m’learned colleague Mr Mark Desvaux the academy is a mix of craft and inner game coaching based on everything we’ve learned in nearly four years of the podcast. Our first intake is completely full, but if you want to know more you can sign-up with no obligation here…

Speaking of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, we’ve had a great run of guests recently, including Sadie Jones, James Swallow, Adele Parks, Rachel Winters and Patreon Deep Dives with Caimh McDonnell, Paul Ardoin and more. Have a listen and get inspired!

What’s Been Keeping Me Sane… 

Books

I’m still doing a lot of comfort reading and I dipped back into Pratchett again with GOING POSTAL, a book I didn’t really enjoy first time round. This was released at peak Pratchett, with two or three books coming out a year, plus spin-offs, and I think I took them for granted and whizzed through them. I gave it the time is deserved and it was a much more enjoyable read. Worryingly prescient too, what with certain orange-hued world leaders tinkering with the post office…

I was partly inspired to re-read Going Postal by Marc Burrows’ excellent biography The Magic of Terry Pratchett, which really reinvigorated my love of the man’s writing. Highly recommended if you’re a fan.

I also really enjoyed Ian W Sainsbury’s Bedlam Boy series. Released as three novellas in quick succession these are pacy and super violent and grimly satisfying.

Film & TV

I loved the first episode of Lovecraft Country, which ticks so many boxes for me: monsters, social commentary, monsters, a mysterious quest, monsters… I’ll definitely be watching more.

My son and I have been rewatching the James Bond films in order. Favourites so far are From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Spy Who Loved Me. Octopussy is up next… ah well it was a good run.

Music

Did you know that Janelle Monáe write science fiction concept albums? I only just discovered the joys of Dirty Computer. This track is like Prince crashed the set of Tron and Bladerunner and I love it…

Neil Young’s Homegrown is a time capsule from his Harvest days and it’s truly magical…

And I’ve been brainstorming ideas to the score from Tales from the Loop by Paul Leonard-Morgan & Philip Glass. It’s as hypnotic as you’d expect…

Stay tuned…

Coming soon: shots from the set of The Little People, news on my book series, and a recipe for jam roly-poly. Tell your friends!

Till next time…

Mark

I Done Wrote Another Movie!

The Little People are coming…

BIG NEWS! My monster movie screenplay THE LITTLE PEOPLE is going to be a movie. I worked on the story with director Jon Wright (who I cannot praise and thank enough), and we have a dream team to make it. There’s more here in the Hollywood Reporter…

I’m Writing A Sequel (no, not that one)

I’ve got my writing groove back. After finishing a screenplay at the end of March I was feeling pretty knackered and then along came a certain pandemic (you may have seen some mention of it on the news) and it fairly took the wind out of my sails… but then I got some news that got me going again.
I can’t really say much about it other than it looks like I will have a book out next year — the beginning of a brand new series! — and it will be the first of three, if not more. And if you want some clue as what it’s about, here’s a pic of some of the books I’ve been reading for research…
Magic, war, pubs… this book will have it all!
The first book in the series is written and is currently getting the red pen treatment from the editor. In the meantime, I’m writing the sequel and, in a departure from my usual method, I’m writing by the seat of my pants. I’ve always been a big planner, but this time I decided to just, y’know, make it up as I go along… and I’m loving it! I blogged about it recently and you can read more here.

What’s Keeping Me Sane…

Books

I’ve re-read Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, which I pretty much picked at random off the shelf. This is Discworld at its peak for me. Effortless to read, very funny and full of wisdom. I’ll be going back there again soon.

I’m about to start Gray Williams’ second novel Strange Ways. I really enjoyed his debut, The End of the Line, which was a cracking supernatural thriller and this promises to be even more intense, I mean look at that cover with the lightning and the fire and the pointy things…

Music

Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is one of those albums where you can’t wait to learn all the lyrics so you can sing along with the same conviction she has. Righteous stuff.

For writing music, I’ve tapping along to Torin Borrowdale’s score for Locke & Key, and Anastasis by Dead Can Dance.

Film & TV

I’ve been re-watching long movies over two or three nights: MidsommarAmadeusOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood all benefit from an early night and regular loo breaks. I’m trying to convince Claire to watch The Irishman with me… that might take a few nights.

TV has been less challenging. Schitt’s Creek has been a comfort-watch. If you’ve tried and given up after the first season, do persevere. It’s a joy and the finale had me grinning like an idiot. And the most recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is a major return to form. I know Larry is an acquired taste, but I love his wry and excruciating way of never knowing when to just shut up.

Oh, and I watched Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker for the first time since seeing it at the cinema (remember them?). I have thoughts here.

More News To Come…

Apologies again for being Captain Vague Pants, but I’m hoping to have more details on the book thing soon, as well news about a movie and a TV show. It’s all exciting stuff and means I will be a very busy boy for the next year or so. If you want to be the first to know, then make sure you sign-up to my newsletter here.

Till next time, stay safe, healthy and keep being groovy…

Mark

I’m Pantsing the Pants Off This (and Loving It)

Or, How I Learned to Write Without a Massive Outline

For as long as I’ve written, I’ve loved a good outline. It comes from my screenwriting where outlines are something of a necessity when dealing with agents, producers, directors, etc. They like to know what they’re getting for their money upfront and it’s not unusual for the writer to put together some kind of pitch, synopsis or beat-by-beat outline ahead of actually writing the thing.

I’ve done the same with my novels. I’ve always liked to write a thorough chapter-by-chapter outline — a clear roadmap, because I’d hate to be halfway through a hundred-thousand word novel and not have a clue what happens next, or discover a massive plot hole. If you’re a regular listener of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, you’ll know that it got me a proper bollocking from that nice Mr Ben Aaronovitch (skip to about 26 minutes in…).

Since the Great Bollocking I’ve had two novels published, Back to Reality and The End of Magic, both heavily outlined and people seem to like them. But… both were well in progress when Ben gave us an earful, so I figured what the hell, I should just finish what I started with them.

I listen back to our old podcasts fairly regularly. Not out of any vanity, but I really do believe we got tons of amazing evergreen advice from some of the best authors in the business and it would be daft to ignore them. One thing that became clear is there’s no single method of writing a novel. Lots of writers love to outline, plenty of them are pantsers (writing by the seat of their pants… a term I had not heard before starting the podcast), many do a little of both. There’s no definite, step-right-this-way-to-success system. You have to figure out what works for you and build on that.

I was happy outlining, but I’ve prided myself on never writing anything the same way twice. Every time I start a project, it’s a little different and I learn something new. I figured it was time for a big change, so why not try and pants a full-length story?

But what about that fear of getting lost? Of getting halfway through a story and not knowing where to go next?

It was another podcast that had a nugget of advice that unlocked it for me. I’m a big fan of Scriptnotes, a podcast for screenwriters (and things that are interesting to screenwriters). In it, screenwriters John August (Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) discuss craft and the industry, and I find it invaluable. Last summer (2019) they released an episode featuring just Craig who gave a talk that he’s given to screenwriters at festivals over the years.

It’s a brilliant episode, crammed with terrific advice. It’s behind a paywall now, but you can read a transcript of the full episode here.

The advice that stuck out for me was this…

“If you can write the story of your character as they grow from thinking “this” to “the opposite of this”… you will never ask what should happen next ever again.”

Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes, ep403, 41m 50s

A little lightbulb went off in my head. It was the same question I would ask myself while writing an outline anyway, so why not apply it to the blank page of a fresh draft? Would it be any different? Would it be any better?

I’ve been using and adapting this method for one screenplay (written on spec, no outline necessary) and one-and-a-bit novels and I’m loving it. I’ll start with a one-page outline, but with a bigger focus on character and theme. Who is this character? How will they change, and what’s stopping them from doing it? With those two polar opposites in mind, I rough out a very basic story and then start writing. It can be hard at first as you test the water. When I get stuck, I put the laptop aside and start scribbling in a notebook with Mazin’s advice in mind: What’s what the worst thing that can happen? What will stop this character from getting what they want? How will they overcome it?

If I can’t figure it out right away, I might stop writing altogether and get on with my day. More often than not I’ll have a solution come out of the blue while I’m washing dishes, in which case I dry my hands and email myself the note ready for the next day.

It’s working so far. The screenplay has a director and producer attached and looks like it’s a goer, and the one and a bit novels…? I’m hoping to have some good news about them soon.

I’m not saying this is going to work for everyone, but I’m enjoying living on the edge. If you’re a big outliner, why not give it a go? All you’ve got to lose is your word count…

How I Learned to Like The Rise of Skywalker

This post contains huge spoilers for Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker, so if you haven’t seen it, please go no further than the adorable Aki Aki mother and child of spoilerdom…

Okay, all good? We’ve all seen it, yes? Fine, you have been warned.

If you’ve been following my blog since the release of The Force Awakens you’ll know that I’ve been keen on these films, making several trips to the movies to see them in 2D, 3D and fill-your-eyes-with-space-joy IMAX. I liked The Force Awakens very much, with a few caveats, and I loved The Last Jedi precisely for the reasons that some folk hated it. I saw Rise of Skywalker at the movies on the opening weekend… and never went back.

It’s like a knickerbocker glory dessert: it looks great on the menu, piled high with the things you love, but by the time you’re halfway through you’re either sick or exhausted of it.

It hurtles along at a reckless pace in the hope that the viewer can barely draw breath long enough to realise that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, characters popping in and out of scenes for nuggets of exposition, constant fake-outs with characters seemingly doomed one minute then fine the next, and threads that only make sense if you go and buy the novelisation… It is, as my dear old nan used to say, a bugger’s muddle.

Of course, I immediately pre-ordered the Blu Ray.

I mean, I’ve got all the others, so why have a gap in my collection? (Curse my completist tendencies!) When it arrived, the first thing I watched was not the film, but a documentary called The Skywalker Legacy. It’s over two hours long and is worth the price of the Blu Ray alone. It reminded me of all the good things in this film: the level of craft on this production is phenomenal. The design, costume, hair & make-up, visual effects, special effects, animatronics, stunts (the stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart is a joy to watch) are all incredible. These are top people at their peak and they make the film look and sound amazing, and they and the actors all put their heart and souls into the film and they clearly had a great time making it. Except one person…

Chris Terrio is a fine screenwriter. His work on Argo saw him nominated for many awards and he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. There’s no doubting his credentials. On the Skywalker Legacy documentary he has the look of a deer in headlights, because he knows more than anyone (with the possible exception of JJ Abrams) the impossibility of what he has to deliver. Not only must he conjure up a blockbuster screenplay that wraps up a trilogy (never easy), he is also burdened with all eight other films in the series and countless spin off novels, comics, theme parks and cartoons.

As I was watching the documentary it dawned on me: how could this film be anything other than a disappointment? And I think Chris Terrio and JJ knew this too.

Once I accepted this… I was okay with the movie! I watched it again last night, and the same criticisms remain (it really makes no bloody sense whatsoever), but it works on an emotional level and for this soppy old sod that’s good enough for me. Also — and this is something Star Wars fans don’t like to talk about — the original films are full of similar story holes… (if anyone can explain the logic behind Luke’s plot to rescue Han in Return of the Jedi, then I’ll buy them a Mars Bar)

The truth is, nothing will recapture the giddy excitement of seeing those films as a child. I can remember each trip vividly, and all the emotional baggage of those films cannot possibly be matched by any screenplay, reboot or remake. I’m coming to terms with the idea that this universe will live on long after I’m gone. It’s not mine anymore, and I’m fine with that. I think… The Rise of Skywalker is the favourite film of some other child who had their mind blown by this incredible universe, and good for them.

Let’s end with the one person who never set a foot wrong throughout all nine films. Please be upstanding for Mr John Williams…

4 Million Words Written

You may recall that we started a thing on the Bestseller Experiment podcast in January called the BXP2020 Challenge. This came from my co-presenter Mark Desvaux, who had struggled to write much under very difficult circumstances. As a single working dad of three kids, he rarely had the time or energy to write, but he found that by using a variation of the Pomodoro technique, he was able to get back into the habit again.

Just 200 words a day, maybe 15-20 minutes in the morning, and he was writing more than ever, but also coping with the everyday stuff with his life and family.

What really made it work was being accountable to others, which is why we added the “banking” feature to the challenge. Don’t just write the words, tell the word about it. That has been embraced by every who has joined in with the challenge (follow the #BXP2020 on Twitter and you’ll see) and I’m blown away to report that one of our challengers just banked our four millionth word.

I can also report that it’s worked in our house, too. Claire started on Jan 1st and is now 60,000 words into her debut crime novel. And me… I finished writing a screenplay through Jan and Feb, and then Covid-19 came along and took all the wind out of my sails. After a couple of weeks of writing precisely bugger-all, I decided to use the challenge to start writing again. 200 words a day, has become 500+ words a day and I’ve not only completed one short story, but I’m halfway through another.

It really works.

Give it a go. You can start whenever you want, and it’s completely free… https://bestsellerexperiment.com/bxp2020/

How’s the new normal going for you?

To say that things are weird at the moment would be the understatement of the 21st century and I’ve been meaning to update the blog for about two weeks now, but the time never quite felt right.

I’m sure you’ve all seen social media posts and blogs urging folk to “start writing that novel, there’s never been a better time”, but I’ll be honest with you, I really struggled to concentrate on writing those first few weeks.

Apart from the world going topsy turvy, I had also just finished some intense final draft work on a screenplay, so I was pretty wiped anyway… but I’m back in the groove now, and the thing that’s really helped me is using the BXP2020 challenge method of just 200 words a day. That little and often method really helps build a habit, especially if you’re picking it up again after a bit of time off. 

That said, if you’re not in the mindset to work, you should give yourself permission to take a vacation from creativity.These are crazy days and no time to be pressurising yourself.

WATCH, LISTEN & READ

What I’m watching…

My daughter Emily and I recently finished a months-long Game of Thrones marathon. My second time, her first. I don’t care what you say, that final season is magnificent and all the more effective when you give it a seven-season run-up. 

Picard was an emotional rollercoaster and yes, parts of the ending were silly (I see Trek has fallen into the same “More spaceships! More! More!!!” bear trap that Rise of Skywalker opened), but a simple scene of a final farewell between two old friends was more engaging than any number of starships.

I’m three episodes into The Mandalorian (we only just got Disney+ in the UK) and it’s exactly what I want from my Star Wars — just the right mix of Western steeliness, blaster action, strange creatures, childish cuteness, wry humour and jetpacks. All the jetpacks.

Emily and I are also one episode away from the Locke & Key finale, which reminds me…

What I’m reading…

I recently re-read the Locke & Key comics by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and it’s fascinating to contrast them with the Netflix show, which is appealingly YA in its tone. The comics can be much more nihilistic (particularly with the villains who regularly murder innocents in the comics, but are slightly more sympathetic on TV). I wonder if that indicates a change in Joe and Gabriel’s work since the comics, or simply what it took to unlock it for TV?

I’ve also been researching for various projects. Lots of magic and witchcraft. The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic by Christopher Dell is a wonderful illustrated history, and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate is thorough without taking itself too seriously.

I’ve also been reading Tempest, the final volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Story-wise it’s not as satisfying as the previous adventures, but the concept of adopting different styles of comics through the ages is ingenious.

What I’m listening to…

I’ve really gone back to basics during the lockdown. Lots of Beatles and Floyd — stuff I can sing along with. While writing this I had on Matt Berry’s TV Themes (tons of nostalgia dipped in acid jazz) and Mozart’s Requiem (weirdly soothing).

I’m also listening to… other people! Before the Corona-crisis I would put off phone calls, knowing I would catch up with people sooner or later. Now I’m taking calls all day, often with old friends I haven’t spoken to in yonks. One of the positives in all this madness.

Leaving the plugs till last…

A couple of my books are on offer at the moment…

In the UK, Back to Reality is 99p in the Kindle March sale. Just a few days left!

Also in the UK, the eBook of Robot Overlords is 99p for the foreseeable future. I asked Gollancz to do this as the opening of the book — where everyone in the world is confined to their homes — seemed somewhat apt. Here’s me reading from it over on my Facebook page. It’s available on KindleAppleKobo and Google.

 Oh, and here’s an important message from our Robot Overlords.

Finally, if you want your book edited, copy-edited, proofread, or just want a reader’s report, reply to this email and we’ll get the ball rollingI have all sorts of services for writers and I have plenty of time on my hands (that won’t last, by the way… I’ve recently had some news about some TV, film and book projects that will make me a very busy boy in the second half of this year!).

Hang in there…


This won’t end overnight. We’re in this for the long run. Weeks at least, months most likely. But together we’ll get through this. I usually sign off emails with “All the best” or “Speak soon”, but lately I’ve been using…

Stay safe and healthy,

Mark