Here’s One Way To Write A First Draft

I’ve been working on a new way of writing the first draft of my novel. And it’s been working really well… so far…

TRANSCRIPT:

Hello, folks. Apologies for the hair. Still in lockdown and two weeks till I get a haircut, so this is going to get worse before it gets better. Anyway, I’m working on the first draft of Skyclad, the third Witches of Woodville book.

Regulars will know that I used to be a big outliner when it came to writing, but I’m becoming more and more of a pantser or discovery writer, whatever you want to call it.

That is, I’m making it up as I go along. Well, sort of. I do have a rough idea of where I’m going and I know how I want the story to end. And I have a few key notes on a few key moments, but I thought you might be interested to know how I’m working with this one. Again, regulars might know that I have a different notebook dedicated to each project. Here’s the one for Book Three of the witches of Woodville, Skyclad.

This was bought at the National Trust Gift Shop at the White Cliffs of Dover, which is a little clue as to where some of the book will take place. What I’ve taken to doing with this story is switching from day to day between paper — the notebook — and the screen — the laptop — and it’s really working for me. So to give you some idea… On, say, Monday, I will start noodling ideas for what happens next in the story in The Notebook.

So here I’ve written in big letters, “How can the Poltergeist exorcism go wrong?” Slight spoiler, but it’s the opening scene. I’ve made notes on what can happen in that scene and they are imperfect notes. I’ve given myself permission to wander off, and noodle and try different scenarios, and scribble stuff out, and put other things in boxes and underline them, and highlight them. And what I find is that by the end of the writing session, I have a really good idea of how that chapter pans out.

The level of detail varies from session to session. But the next day, Tuesday, when I open up the laptop, I’m not victim to the tyranny of the blinking cursor. You know that feeling when you look at a blank page of Word or Scrivener that bastard cursor is flashing at you, “Go on, write something. What are you waiting for? Call yourself a writer?” Well, now I just go to my notes and start typing, and before I know it I’m up and running. I used the less formalised version of this with The Crow Folk and the second book, Babes in the Wood, available to pre-order now.

And it worked really well. So this is an evolution of that. A few caveats. I’m only 10,000 words into this novel and, in my experience, openings are pretty easy when compared to the rest of the book… not least the middle section, which can lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. So I’ll check in with this in about a month’s time and see if I’m feeling quite so smug still. Also, I’m writing the third book in a series.

I know the characters and situations really well. I have a very good idea of how people will react when presented with challenges. And that makes a writer’s life much, much easier and makes me wonder why it’s taken me so long to write a series. This is so much fun. Anyway, I hope you found that helpful. How is your writing going? Does this sort of method work for you? Pop a comment below or drop me a line. In the meantime, happy writing.

Son of a Beach

It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.

I finished the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. 16 weeks of pretty intense work. Was it worth it? Check out my thinkings over here…

I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…

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Getting a lift in the new Hachette warehouse…

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Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.

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I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”

I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?

Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here

Till next time!

Mark

Isabel Ashdown’s secrets and lies

We had the fantastic thriller writer Isabel Ashdownon the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. Isabel is the author of bestselling thrillers Little Sister and Beautiful Liars, and she walked away from a successful career to focus on her writing and it all stepped up a gear when she entered a competition in a newspaper. I was also joined by stand-in co-host Sam Eades who is always good fun and does a mean jigsaw… You can listen to the podcast here.

Like many science fiction and fantasy authors out there, I found myself sighing in despair at this comment from Liz Thomson in the Bookseller. I am beyond proud to have been published by Gollancz, and I realise that this kind snobbery exists, but you expect better from Liz (who’s always been very chatty and friendly whenever I’ve met her) and the Bookseller, a publication that should celebrate all publishing regarding of genre. Sigh…

And a quick update on my fantasy novel The End of Magicit’s now 80% funded over at Unbound, so it’s not too late to pledge to join the adventure and get your name in the book along with some other cool extras. Click here for more info.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

I got a rejection this week… and I’m in good company…

I loved this Tweet from VE Schwab asking authors if they had received rejections of their work recently…

She was deluged with replies, some from some very big names, and one from me. Only last week, I had a book pitch rejected by a publisher. The response I got was, “We pissed ourselves laughing, we loved it, we just don’t know how to sell it.” And that’s fine. I appreciate the honesty and know that there would be nothing worse than slogging away on a novel for however many months only for the publisher to give a shrug on publication.

I more positive news I was inspired by blog posts from a couple of writers friends. Julian Barr talks about what he strives for here, and Laurence Doherty talks about working up from rejections to the NI New Writers Focus Scheme here.

And the big treat for the week is the Bestseller Experiment live show with Orion editor Emad Akhtar (pictured above). He answered all sorts of listener questions on writing, editing, storytelling and WWE wrestling… Yes really. You can listen here.

Till next time, happy writing!

Cavan Scott – Licence to Write

I really enjoyed speaking to Cavan Scott on this week’s episode of the Bestseller Experiment. He writes on licence – that is, he writes for some of the biggest franchises and series in the world, including Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek. Listening to how he worked his way up from sending pitches to Big Finish Audio to becoming an influential writer of these beloved universes, and now writing his own fiction, was inspirational stuff. And moreso, now I’ve just learned that Cavan is bringing back Jaxxon the Rabbit, a cocky gunslinger who featured in one of the first ever Star Wars spinoff stories in the weekly comic.

It’s a fun episode, and you can listen to it here.

My co-presenter this week was the wonderful Jenn McMenemy, whose own podcast The Ancient History Fangirl, has just launched its second episode and it’s a blast. Check it out here.

In other news, I hit 60% funded on The End of Magic this week! A huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far. As a reward (punishment) here’s me reading from the book with another terrible “comedy” accent…

If you haven’t pledged yet, then please visit here and hit the big blue ‘pledge’ button: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

A ghostwriter, an archaeologist and a wizard walk into a bar…

On this week’s Bestseller Experiment podcast I spoke to Ghostwriter Roz Morris, who gives a very thorough breakdown of how a ghostwriter works, and also describes a fun way of developing story ideas that involves scraps of paper and a box.

Mark Desvaux has had to bow out of the podcast for a few episodes due to a family illness, so I was ably assisted by Jenn McMenemy who, as well being on the podcast as a guest previously, has also launched her own podcast Ancient History Fangirl, which is huge fun and proves once again that history is a great resource for writers.

This week’s Deep Dive podcast is a cracker, looking into audiobooks, the fastest growing sector of publishing. We talk to Orion Audio’s Paul Stark about mainstream audiobook publishing, and we also get contributions from indie authors Jo Ho and Michael R Miller. It’s choc full of ready detailed info, so if you’re not a Patreon supporter pop over to our Patreon page and get on board!

And finally, at the time of writing I’m 59% funded on my book The End of Magic. A thousand thanks to everyone who’s pledged so far, and if you haven’t joined the adventure yet, why not be the hero who nudges me over to 60%? Click here and hit the blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

 

Mark

Want to be part of an epic fantasy adventure…?

Hello – I’m very excited to announce that my new book, a fantasy novel called The End of Magic will be coming soon from Unbound Publishing!

Watch this clip of me being all windswept and David Starkey to discover more…

Unbound are amazing. It’s essentially a Kickstarter model, and YOU – yes YOU! – can be a part of the book’s publication. Simply pledge and get your name in the book as a patron, or go really crazy and make yourself a character in the book (you could die a glorious death!), or get feedback from me on your novel or screenplay, or even take a trip to the coast and talk toot the whole day!

This book is a big passion project for me. It’s a combination of the kind of fantasy I loved when growing up, combined with the sort of grimdark I enjoy today. I’m calling it GrimFun (you’re welcome) and I really hope you can join me on the adventure.

And here’s the cool bit –

You can get a 10% discount on your pledge using the discount code bestsellerxp

Do please SHARE with anyone you know who loves a great read, in the meantime enjoy the book’s awesome theme tune composed by Dominic Currie…

Launch day diary – Back to Reality

Yesterday, we finally launched our book Back to Reality (I may have mentioned it once or twice on social media), and it was an incredible day. Here’s what I wrote in my diary last night…

 

Monday 16th October

Publication day! I’m completely knackered, so here’s a quick summary…

My first solo Youtube Live starts well, but soon descends into confusion as it becomes apparent that there was some kind of problem with the link and a bunch of people were on the wrong Youtube page.

I’m stuck in a glass cubicle at work and I’m sweating, but the sales and reviews are coming in. The reviews are completely heartwarming.

We try and hook up with Mike Morris, but he’s in Dubai and we can’t connect so we have to drop his slot. Not great – nothing techie is working!

Second session with Desvaux is better and by now we’re number one in popular music on Amazon.com, nudging aside Phil Collins and Carly Simon!

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I’m humming by now, so stroll up to the Next near St Paul’s and buy some fresh t-shirts. It’s a warm, close day and the sky is amber and the sun is a blood orange – side effects of hurricane Ophelia, currently battering Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I freshen-up and change shirts in the toilet at work. We were hoping to speak to Joanna Harris, but the publicist whisks her away. Boo!

The evening Youtube session is the best one. We’re getting the hang of it now, and the enthusiasm from the listeners is wonderful and sustains us.

On the train home, and we’re #1 in three categories on Amazon.com, including Fantasy Humor… above Good Omens and The Colour of Magic…

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That’s a pinch-me moment!

Desvaux tweets Gaiman, who retweets us and my notifications go crazy. Desvaux says we’ll faint. Gaiman wants to see the faints, so we film them… More RT fun.

 

We end the day by finally getting an orange ‘Bestseller’ flag on Amazon.com.

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Mission accomplished.

Now for sleep.

One day to go!

What the what?? One day till publication?? In today’s episode Mr. D reads out our blurb (which had to be re-recorded at the last minute, as the blurb has gone through about 150 drafts this week) and I read an excerpt from the book in my best sexy-actor-voiceover-voice… It’s not that sexy. I have a weak ‘r’ which can wob the nawwative of its dwamatic tension.

Listening back, this episode is far too chilled for our penultimate episode… I think we were just knackered at this point. Click here to listen for yourself!

Till tomorrow…