the writing life, writing tips

Writing Software for Productivity

Nanowrimo is doing great things for my productivity. Which is good because I’m trying to up my daily word count from 2000 words, ideally to 5000. Currently I’m managing 3000 daily but my brain feels like wet cotton wool.

I do worry that writing fast leads to more time spent editing, which leads to no net gain in speed, but otoh when I started writing on a regular basis I was doing 1250 words a week. I got it up very slowly to 1000 words a day by the use of star charts and a weekly reward if I got a star every day. That didn’t lead to a loss of quality as far as I’m aware.

Then I slowly increased it to 2000 words a day, which I now consider a comfortable speed with ample thinking time. So there’s every possibility that I might grow used to 3000 too, in time. 3000 words a day (with weekends off) = a 75K book every month, which would be awesome.

(Factor in plotting time and the usual summer slump and burnout and so forth and you’re still looking at possibly 4 or five books a year.)

What I’m finding really helpful in that is software that penalizes you if you stop writing to stare out of the window.

Write or Die allows you to set how long you intend to write and how many words per minute and then it penalizes you with a red screen and a nasty noise if you slow down too much or stop. It’s free if you use the on-line version, or you can buy your own copy for £20, which makes it very affordable.

Write or Die

4 the words is an online site that allows you to fight monsters and gain loot and experience by writing faster than the monster can. I haven’t tried the quests yet, but it’s actually fun to try to beat the monsters and it makes writing very painless. Unfortunately it’s only free for the first month and after that it’s $4 a month.

4 the words

I’m not sure how worth the monthly subscription it is given that Write or Die will do the same thing. But it is more entertaining, which is a big help when you just don’t want to do it. IDK, but I’ve got the rest of the month to figure it out 🙂

about me, the writing life

It’s shaping up

It’s all go, chez Oliver. Yesterday my tech support guy (aka DH) got the self-hosted website up and running. I like the more minimal look, what do you think?

Today, I’ve edited all my Alex Oliver books to include a link to my newsletter, which I’m currently adding to via StoryOrigin App. That will probably change once I’ve wrestled MailChimp into working with this site, but in the mean time at least there’s something.

That involved:

  • Writing the Afterword for each book,
  • Deciding which book to offer for free in each book,
  • Re-sizing the new cover so it would display on Kindle/Kobo
  • Compiling the new files in Scrivener and checking to see if I included everything (sometimes I forget to switch the Afterword back on.)
  • Uploading all the new files to D2D and Amazon
  • Noticing that the Afterword in all the Alex Beecroft books will have to be altered too now in order to offer Romance books rather than the predominantly SF/F ones I’m currently offering. (Hopefully this may increase sign-up in future!)

All of that has taken me six hours, and there’s still so much more to do. But it’s one thing down, so it counts as progress.

After a short coffee break, I’ll start edits on Murder of a Working Ghost. Then when that’s done I’ll be able to think about writing new sci-fi. Probably new fantasy, to be honest. Did I say I was going to do a sequel to the Arising books? I am 🙂

If you fancy something like His Majesty’s Dragon combined with 18th Century Dracula, you might like to try The Arising books, but wait a little until I’ve got them under this name. They’ll be going into a new edition with some heavy edits first.

But now coffee!

the writing life, Write On

Write On – a short practical guide to becoming a published author.

Getting Started – the tools of the trade.

Hoards of people want to write a novel. Just as doctors find that everyone they meet tells them about their ailments, authors find that everyone tells them about the novel they intend to write. Authors generally nod politely, say “oh, how interesting!” and go home secure in the knowledge that about 99% of the people who ‘want’ to write a novel will never put pen to paper because they don’t really want it at all.

It’s only when the partygoer/man on the bus etc says “I am writing a novel” that it’s worth while rolling up a trouser leg, exchanging the secret handshake of writerdom and settling down to talk shop. Like winning the pools, owning a dream house, being famous, going on Britain’s Got Talent, meeting [movie star of your choice] and dazzling them with your wit, for most people writing a book is one of those ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ things that will never come to pass.

483px-Jean-Bernard_Restout,_Le_Poète_inspiré_(MBA_Dijon)

The people who enjoy dreaming about being a famous author – of looking seriously out of a window while the sun floods over their manuscript and somewhere in the distance an influential reviewer is overwhelmed by their profundity – are probably better off not considering the reality of the thing. This is advice for the other people, the ones who want it enough to actually do something about it.

So, you’ve never written anything before, and you want to become a published novelist. There is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed in this goal. It’s not like my desire to go and live in Rivendell – a resolution hampered by the fact that the Last Homely House is sadly fictional. Becoming a published author is entirely in the realms of the possible, providing you’re willing to put the work in for as long as it takes.

How to start?

Writers are very fortunate. The tools we need to begin writing professionally are very simple. At their most basic they are even very cheap. You can go from aspiring writer to Writer using nothing more than a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.

Writing in longhand in a notebook has the advantage that a certain degree of slowness is built in. It gives you lots of time to think as you work. If you’re starting to write fiction from a basis of never having done anything of the sort before, a pen and notebook can seem less intimidating than a computer. Plus it’s more private and more portable than all but the smallest net books.

If you’re going from zero to novel, it can be helpful to do a lot of your initial character and plot roughing out in longhand. However, I really wouldn’t recommend writing out your entire novel in longhand if you have another choice. You can, if you honestly can’t afford a computer. But then you’ll have to send it off to be typed by someone who does have one, because no publisher takes longhand manuscripts. In fact, most publishers will only accept emailed manuscripts in electronic file format these days, so there’s no getting out of it. Just the researching, marketing and networking opportunities of the internet make it worthwhile alone.

So, a computer with word processing software ought to be down there as one of your necessities. In the short term it will make the mechanical act of getting the words down easier. In the medium term, the internet connects you to beta readers, advice, publishers and agents, submissions calls and places where you can begin to establish yourself as a voice to be heard. And in the long term your publishers and editors will need to be able to contact you by email and send your edits back and forth with tracked changes attached.

In short, you can learn the craft of writing using pen and paper but once you’ve done that, if you mean to write for publication, you’ll need a computer.

I should probably just assume you have a computer already, shouldn’t I? After all, how else would you be reading this post?

Assuming you have a computer, you also need some kind of word processing software. In the long term, most publishers will require you to have Microsoft Word, because that’s what they use, and it has the nifty Tracked Changes ability which editors use extensively. You may also end up using a dedicated programme for writers, such as Scrivener. I can’t get along with it, but many writers seem to swear by it.

In the short term, I recommend LibreOfficeWriter. I do all my writing on this. It’s completely free, it does almost everything Word does, it even opens Word docx files which my version of Word itself won’t do, and once you’re finished it can save its files in a doc format indistinguishable from that made by Word, so nobody knows the difference.

OK, we have pen, paper, a computer, a word processing programme and the internet. What else?

The final things you need to get hold of before you can write are time and space.

It’s finding these things which proves so difficult many people don’t even start. Anyone can buy a pen and some software, but ordering your life so that you can have time to write is a sure sign of being sufficiently committed to actually succeed.

What you need is a place where you can achieve a deep state of concentration, and enough time to use that state for something productive. Finding this place and time varies from writer to writer according to their individual circumstances. In my case, I began writing when I was at home all day with the baby. The baby would sleep for approximately one and a half hours in the middle of the day. I would put her down, tuck her up, switch the computer on and write until she woke up. This meant sacrificing all of my “Oh, thank God, peace and quiet and space to be an adult” time, but it was worth it.

If you’re lucky enough to be someone who can concentrate in a crowded room, you may find you can write for half an hour every day in the coffee shop on your way home from work. You could take the laptop to the library at lunch time. When I had two children with asynchronous sleep cycles I booked an exercise class at the local gym, put them in the creche and typed for two hours in the cafe instead.

If you’re a person who can’t concentrate without solitude and silence, you may have to go to more extreme measures, such as getting up half an hour early every day and locking yourself in whichever room in the house the rest of the family are unlikely to disturb when they wake. Or even taking a camping heater down to the garden shed and typing until your laptop battery runs out.

Going to the effort of building writing time into your day is a good litmus test of how serious you are about this writing lark. Much of what separates the writer from the wannabe comes down to how much effort you’re willing to put in. So finding the time to actually do it is the most important step of all.

The next most important step is finding something to write about, and that’s what I want to talk about next week, in Getting Started – What’s the Idea?

Fantasy Writing, the writing life, writing tips

How to convert your fanfiction to original fiction so you can publish it and make a ton of money.

First I’d like to say that fanfic is awesome. A lot of people will try to make you feel ashamed about having written fanfic. I’ve read blogs where readers have said ‘I loved that book! Now I know it was fanfic once, I feel betrayed.’ I don’t personally understand that attitude, but I know it’s out there. I know there are people who naturally assume all fanfic is cack, and who say so. There are people who assume all fanfic lacks any kind of originality. There are writers outside fanfic who think fanfic of their work is tantamount to abusing their babies, and there are people inside fanfic who seem to feel that a fanfic author who goes pro is betraying the community in some way I’m not entirely clear about.

If you decide to convert your fanfic into original fic, you are going to find yourself the target of all this. I suggest, personally, that the solution to this part of the problem is simply to say ‘fuck them all’, because if you get published, that’s proof that you’ve written something publishable, and if you’ve written something publishable, you deserve to be proud.

One thing that’s become more obvious since 50 Shades of Grey, is that although you know you’re going to get moral outrage for publishing your fanfic cum original fic, the legality of publishing de-fandomed fanfic has never looked better. If there was going to be a lawsuit, you’d think it would happen between the massive juggernauts of Twilight and 50 Shades. The fact that there hasn’t been, even though everyone knows one is ex fanfic of the other shows that – to the best of our current knowledge – successfully filing off the identifying marks from your story means there is no legal case to answer.

Good news!

As far as ‘filing the serial numbers off’ goes, my feeling is that’s not going far enough. You don’t want to just slap a false beard on your fic and hope that no-one will notice. I prefer to look at the process of conversion as being one of turning fanfic into original fic. Breaking all the connections to the fandom, replacing all those things that you owe to the fandom with other things that belong only to you. Just filing the numbers off isn’t enough. Turn that thing into original fic by taking out everything that isn’t yours and replacing it with stuff that is.

The first thing, obviously, is to change the names. It’s striking how much difference it makes, psychologically, to you as an author when you’ve changed your characters’ names. This is the big break, where you cut that umbilical to the fandom. Cut it thoroughly. Don’t do a half-assed job by giving them names people in the fandom can parse. Don’t rename your pirate ‘Jim Finch’ when you mean Jack Sparrow, for example. That’s a case of not letting the fandom go, and it will hamper all your other efforts to make this thing your own. Renaming is vital, not just for legal reasons but because this is the first step of making the characters someone else altogether – and although it will feel like murdering them, it’s actually the first stage of allowing those characters to become your own.

After that it becomes easier to change everything else. Give them slightly different personalities. Alter the settings, change their jobs, their hair colour, the era the story takes place in. Even go to the trouble to edit out turns of phrase and metaphors specific to the fandom. (For example, I knew instantly that one book had originated in Thor fandom when the big blonde character was described as being like a golden retriever. However apt it was, it was a dead giveaway, so it should have come out.)

And once you’ve cut the link to fandom, firmly, it also becomes easier to see where you need to start putting new stuff in. Suddenly your readers don’t know these characters from Adam, and it’s apparent that they need backstories and context and establishing scenes… etc etc.

This sounds like a lot of work, and it is… but it’s still less work than writing a new book from scratch, and some of it can be done with ‘search and replace all.’

After which you can apply to publishers with it. I recommend being up-front with them that it is re-worked fanfic. They will probably not mind. If it was wildly popular in fandom, that will actually be a recommending feature suggesting it’ll be wildly popular elsewhere too. And if they do mind, it’s best to know at once. If it’s good enough to be published by one publisher, another one will take it.

Looking back on this, I see it’s more a summary than a detailed walk through. So when I get back from London on Monday, I’ll follow it up with a ten step guide. In the mean time if you have any questions, hit me up and I’ll answer them then 🙂

the writing life

Another day, another cover re-design

As is often the case, now I’ve started doing cover re-designs I looked at the rest of my books and thought ‘should I update these too?’

As per usual, the answer was ‘well, let’s at least try.’

I went looking for a new picture for the cover of The Witch’s Boy, but in the end couldn’t find one I liked more than the original. But of course, you can do all kinds of things to the same photo to make it look different. So here’s a redesign of The Witch’s Boy to try to make it look a bit more grown up and in line with current tastes. Which one of these two do you like best?*

Also as per usual, by the time I’ve finished working on it, I can no longer tell whether it’s any good or not. I think I like it. What do you think?

*The new one is on the left and the old on the right.

(As an aside, I should finish writing the cozy mystery I’m working on by this time next week. At which point I can start thinking about writing actual new SF/F instead of tinkering with the old.)

about me, Fantasy Writing, the writing life

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi,

I need your expert eagle eye.

The Cygnus Five books have been through an array of covers. It’s almost embarrassing. The first ones looked like Romance covers – not really appealing to fans of space opera. The second ones resembled hard SF and were colourless and unappealing. For the third ones, I went too far into the territory of old fashioned pulp SF from the 1970s – which was when I started reading SF/F, and thus burned into my brain as what SF/F ought to look like.

Finally it occurred to me to actually look at the covers of books that are selling today. Astonishing, I know.

I discovered three things;

  1. BIG FONTS.
  2. They’re all blue
  3. They have spaceships on them.

Cool, I thought. Let’s make a cover which is blue and has a spaceship on it. So I went to look for some pictures, and the first one I really loved was bright green. *Sigh.* So I attempted to make the bright green one blue. Then I made an actual blue one as well.

So now I really need your advice. Which of these two mockups do you think is the best?

the writing life

How to Finish your novel – two essential tips.

Strangely enough, it took me years before these two things occurred to me. Although they’re very simple and very basic indeed, they are my most indispensable weapons in my whole writerly armoury.

How to finish a story no.1:

Start at the beginning and go on until the end. Do not, at any point, ever go back to revise or change anything that you have already written. Do not stop until the story is finished. Keep moving forward. If new ideas occur to you which would mean the first chapter needs rewriting, note those new ideas down in a separate ‘notes’ file, but keep writing from the point that you have already reached until you get to the end.

Only when the first draft is finished are you allowed to go back to the beginning and alter anything.

Before this rule, I would usually get five chapters in to something, and then I would think of something to change or polish in those first five chapters. I would go back and re-write them. Then I would go back and re-write them again. And again. And then I would be bored of the whole project and frustrated with my inability to pin it down. So I would start something new, and the whole process would begin again. I have so many abandoned starts of novels you could leaf a forest with them.

Nowadays, however, I only have finished stories. Many are very rough and need a lot of editing, but all of them have a beginning, middle and end, and are therefore capable of becoming a complete, polished novel in a way that five perfect chapters and nothing more are not.

How to finish a story no.2:

This is less of a technique and more of a psychological pointer. The ‘start at the beginning and go on to the end. Then stop.’ Tip at no.1 is all you need to finish a story. However, no.2 will help you to manage it.

You see, your brain, like mine, is probably highly conflicted about the act of writing. If it’s anything like mine, it loves starting stories. It loves the discovery, the sense of adventure, the freshness and glee of starting something new.

But that wears off once the novelty is past and you begin to realize that there are months of solid writing before you. Suddenly your brain is making you want to do housework, or read Tolstoy’s complete works, or take up quilting, or go back to the beginning to put this cool new idea in. Your brain, if it is anything like mine, does not want to do the long slog of writing day after day that is necessary to get through the middle of the novel.

This is where it helps to know that it is normal and expected to hate the story and to believe that the concept is boring and your talent has left you. It isn’t and it hasn’t. It’s just your brain trying to sabotage you and get you to skive off.

Ignore it. It’s lying to you. Carry on writing anyway, even though it’s a slog and you hate everything you’re writing. Just keep going.

Eventually, as if you have pushed a stone up to the top of the hill and over the top, the story will begin to flow again, your writing will look good to you again, and you will once more be enjoying the process of writing. Hurray!

But beware, your brain doesn’t like finishing a story either. That means tackling the difficult bit of making everything resolve neatly, and when you have done so there will be the pain of parting with these characters you love. Woes! To avoid this, your brain will try to trick you into not finishing. Once more, writing will be like swimming in treacle, your words will look lame and facile, and you will be convinced this is the worst story ever.

Don’t believe it this time either. It’s still lying. Push on and finish the story. And when you have, a miracle will happen. You’ll give it a couple of days to rest, come back to it, and it will turn out to be really not that bad at all! You will have a finished first draft and it will be good.

If you can learn your own pattern – the ups and downs of when you hate your work and when you love it – you will be prepared, and you won’t abandon a promising novel in the middle because you were secretly sabotaging yourself. Learn when to tell yourself to take a running jump, carry on writing anyway, and I guarantee you will have no more half finished novels abandoned in disgust.

How long it will take before you can bear to edit your finished first drafts is a separate question, of course 😉

the writing life

You need to know these facts about fire, or your fantasy worldbuilding will fail.

Clearly there are many advantages to reading bad books. One of these is the inspiration to write blog posts in an effort to make sure it never happens again.

There are several aspects of medieval life which are easily researchable, but which sometimes writers think they can make up on the fly. I can hardly blame a writer, who has grown up with movies and TV series in which the pseudo-medieval people sit round a blazing fire of leaping yellow flames, which comes on and goes off as if at the flick of a switch, for thinking that that’s how it really is.

But you know what, kids, it really isn’t, and writing shows up your ignorance more than any brief glimpse of setting in a movie ever could. Worse, more than enough of your readers will have dealt with camp fires, will have open fires at home, will be blacksmiths, reenactors and twisted firestarters to know you got it wrong and to laugh at you for it.

Here, then, is a cheat’s guide to the common camp and hearth fire.

First of all, to address the scene in the book I just read, if you stumble into a clearing where someone has had a fire which has been left to burn itself out and is now cold, and you want to light one yourself, do not try to set fire to the ‘powdery stuff’ which is left. That stuff is called ‘ash’. Ash is the waste product of fire, and while good for tanning leather and making soap it is not flammable.

So, how do you relight someone’s fire (sounds like a romance plot)?

First of all, you rake the cold ashes out of the place where they made the fire. Ash forms a fluffy, inflammable barrier which prevents air getting to your fuel – so it actually chokes the fire. You want a nice clean start on which to build, because making a fire is hard, and unless you give it the best chance you can, you will fail to get it started at all.

First of all, consider your terrain. Are you in a very dry place? What’s the soil like? If you start a fire on top of an unprotected soil largely made of dry peat, you may end up setting fire to the ground under you. This is a bad idea.

Check, therefore, to see if the previous camper lined the firepit with stone or clay, or whether the ground is wet enough to reduce the danger of roasting yourself and the county you sit in. If not, find stones or clay yourself and make a floor of that to start the fire on.

Next, sort through the raked out mess of the previous fire. There are some parts of a burnt out fire which will be helpful – any largish chunks of wood which are partially but not wholly burned are likely to be slightly more inclined to catch alight than completely unburned wood would be. These don’t go on the hearth (technical term for the floor you’ve made for your fire) yet, though.

Now you want to give the infant fire some baby food to help it grow up strong before it can move on to the solid food of big logs. You cannot just drop a spark on a log and expect fire to result, unless you’re in ‘hello forest fire’ conditions, in which case do not light a fire at all!

Ideally, your sensible pseudo-medieval traveller is carrying a carefully protected bag of dry hay, small dry twigs, and a half a dozen larger dry split sticks. (This is a job for the evening before – drying out enough wood to start the fire next day.)

Arrange the small twigs in a lattice arrangement (any shape you can manage which leaves plenty of space for air to get through, and a hollow in the middle into which you will insert the fire. Arrange the larger twigs on top of that – still carefully preserving the air-flow. Support the larger dry sticks and partly burned pieces on top of that.

Make sure there is a good pile of further wood already gathered and preferably cut up into hearth-sized lengths waiting to go on when the time is right.

OK, so that’s the easy bit done. Now, the prepared pseudo-medieval traveller takes out her tinderbox. The tinderbox contains a small lump of flint and a steel strikealight. It also contains a piece of pre-prepared tinder. This can be a kind of dried fungus, or the fluffy seed of bullrushes, or several small pieces of linen that have been cooked in an airtight box until they’re black.

I’ve never used fungus or bullrushes, but this is how it goes with linen. When absolutely everything is ready, you hold one piece of linen and the flint in the same hand. Strike the steel against the flint until a spark falls on the linen. The spark will hopefully catch and create a little glowing red spot of slow burning on the linen. When this happens, you put the flint down, keep the spot glowing by blowing gently on it, pick up the straw. Place the glowing linen into the centre of the straw and blow hard into the centre of the ball of straw and linen.

Hopefully the straw will catch alight. Not too soon, but not so late that you burn your hands off, push the burning ball of straw into the hollow you created for it in the lattice of what will become your fire. Get your face as close to the fire as you can and breathe air into the flames – gently and steadily.

Hopefully, the twigs will begin to burn before the straw burns out. Hopefully the larger twigs and pieces of branch will begin to burn before the smaller twigs burn out. If so, the careful lattice will slowly settle into itself and begin to create glowing embers.

You cannot walk away from the fire at this stage. It needs another hour or so of feeding it larger logs while being careful not to crush or smother the air out of it before it’s self-sustaining enough to be left for a short period. But even then, you will need to check on it every quarter of an hour or so to make sure it isn’t running out of fuel and threatening to go out, or alternatively to make sure it hasn’t ventured out of the side of the hearth and decided to explore your whole campsite.

Fire needs to be cosseted and nurtured and tenderly nursed, and watched relentlessly to be sure it isn’t going to make a break for it. Fire is not an electric light or a space heater, controllable at the flick of a switch, and it’s a tricky, sneaky creature whom you have to keep a careful eye on.

But, you may say, my pseudo-medieval traveller was robbed of all his equipment and is stumbling through the forest naked. He starts a fire and…

How’s he going to do that then? I say. Naked, eh? So he’s got no flint or steel to create a spark? And he’s got no knife to create a fire-drill? Um… Is there flint or rock around he could knap into some kind of cutting tool? More to the point, is he the kind of character with the survivalist knowledge necessary? Does he know which kinds of trees to make his fire-drill out of? Could he recognise the right kind of fungus for tinder? Is it the right season for the bullrushes to be in seed?

And I really hope it’s not raining, because even if he has the ability to make the spark, if the fuel it ends up on is wet, it will put the spark out.

Your average pseudo-medieval peasant is likely to know how to start a fire at home, using dry everything under optimal conditions, just as you are likely to know how to start a fire using matches and a couple of firelighters. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any better than you at lighting a fire in the wild without matches/tinderbox and kindling.

Your naked forest-wanderer may still be saved if he stumbles over the remains of someone else’s fire. But – here is the key bit – he must do so before it has completely burnt out. If he gets to the fireplace and the ashes are still warm, then there is a chance that there are still small embers alight in the ash-bed. Then, if he can find dry tinder (straw, dry pine bark, paper etc), small dry sticks and larger dry sticks, he might be able to find an ember in the ash which will take the place of that elusive spark (another good romance title).

It still has to be not raining, though.

the writing life

How to explain to Christian children about being an author of queer books.

Look at this! I was invited to speak at our local Church of England infants’ school by the vicar, some years ago now, and I’ve just discovered the talk I wrote for them. I managed to get most of it out without consulting the paper, and they asked me all sorts of things. Good times!

~

Hello everyone. My name’s Alex, and I am an author. I should probably start by explaining what that is, shouldn’t I? Well, I suppose you all have favourite books? I certainly hope that you’ve all read *a* book and enjoyed it! But did you ever wonder who makes up the stories inside storybooks, from the little stories like The Gruffalo to the great big stories like The Lord of the Rings? The person who makes up the stories that go in books is called an Author – and that’s what I do.

I should explain how it all happens. It starts when I have an idea. Let’s say I’m doing the washing up or driving to Ely, when I suddenly think to myself “wouldn’t it be interesting to write a story about some girl Vikings. They’ve been left behind when the boys go off on a raid, because the boys don’t think the girls should be able to fight. But no one realized there was a dragon in the hill near their village, and now it’s woken up, and the girls (who can’t fight, remember) are going to have to defeat the dragon using their amazing skills with needlework and cookery.”

So, I get home (or leave the washing up) and sit down at my computer. I fire up my word processor and I start to write. I write books for grown ups, which means that my books have to be really quite long. This one [holds up False Colors] is One hundred thousand words long, which is Two Hundred and Thirty three pages. So you can see that I have to think up a lot of story to fill that amount of space. I’m going to have to decide what all the girls’ names are and what they like and are good at. Who they’re all friends with. I’ll need at least one boy because it’s not fair on boy readers if there aren’t any boys at all in the book – but I’ll need a reason why he didn’t go on the raid with the others. And perhaps we’ll find out half way through that the dragon is really sleepy, normally, but that trolls are making him attack. So then the characters will have to go and deal with the trolls.

It takes me a very long time to write a book because they can get very complicated, and I have to make everything up as I go along. So it takes a lot of thinking. I write from about 10.30, when my husband goes to work until about 5pm, when my children come home from school, with a break for lunch and a break for coffee, and it still takes me almost a year of work to write a single book.

When I’ve got my story finished, that’s not the end of it. That’s only the start of it, in fact, because at that point my story looks like this [Hold up a manuscript.] I have to send this off to people called Publishers. If they like it and they think that other people will want to buy it, then they will pay me for it. They’ll have someone called an editor work with me to make it even better, and they’ll get their cover artists to design a nice cover for it, and they will be the ones who turn my story into a book and send it out to the bookshops for people to read.

This is how I send it to them [hold up manuscript] and this is what it looks like when the Publishers have done their stuff [hold up book.] As you can see, it looks much prettier, but all the words inside are still my words, every single one of them.

So, that’s what an author does.

I have always had stories going on inside my head, and I already knew that I wanted to be an author when I was 11, but it’s a very difficult thing to get into, and unless you’re very lucky, it’s not something that you can make a living at. The person who wrote the Harry Potter books is very rich now, but most authors need to have another job too.

Also for a long time I thought that perhaps God wanted me to do something harder than writing. I thought he would much prefer it if I went out to the Congo as a missionary, or I devoted my life to ending hunger. I thought that God couldn’t possibly want me to do something that I was good at and I enjoyed, because how would that be any kind of proof that I loved him? I’d have to do something miserable, that I didn’t want to do, just to show him that I loved him.

I was very silly in those days. Nowadays, I realize that God gives people a special talent that they are good at, and that they are willing to practice and work at really hard, because they enjoy it – and he hopes that they will use it to do something good in the world.

For example, I write almost all of my books with gay heroes. When people grow up, they want to find someone to love and settle down with, someone to spend the rest of their lives with. Boys who grow up to fall in love with girls are called “straight”, and boys who grow up to fall in love with other boys are called “gay.”

Now it says in the Bible that God created all people in his own image – he created everything and he saw that it was good. So we know that God loves everybody the same, whether they’re straight or gay. But there are a lot of people in the world who get a bit silly the same way that I did, and they think that if you’re gay you should try not to be, in order to please God. This makes life quite hard for gay people, and other people use it as a chance to be mean and look down on gay people.

I don’t think that’s what God wants at all. So I write books with gay heroes because I don’t think it’s fair that only straight people should get to be heroes in books. Everyone needs to know that people like themselves can do exciting things and fight against evil, overcome all kinds of problems, fall in love and live happily ever after. And that’s something that I can tell my readers even when they might be feeling all alone.

I know that I have learned lots of wonderful things from books. When Gollum saves the world at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I learned how unexpectedly Bilbo’s mercy from the Hobbit – the fact that he felt sorry for Gollum, even though Gollum didn’t deserve it, and didn’t try to kill him after all – that tiny little act of compassion had lead to the entire world being saved. I always think I wouldn’t know nearly as much about good and bad if I hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings.

Books were often my best friends when I was growing up, because I was shy even then and I didn’t dare talk to people about things that were important to me. But I found books that showed me that there were other people like me in the world – that somewhere someone understood me. And that really helped.

So I like to think that being an author is quite an important thing after all, and that God knew what he was doing when he wanted me to do what I also wanted to do with my life. It would have been nice to feed the starving millions, but I was always rubbish at science, so I wouldn’t have done that very well. Probably there’s someone else who would do it better, and quite probably they would enjoy it more too.

I should probably finish by saying that if any of you already know that you have something you’re good at, and you enjoy, maybe you should think about how you can use that talent that God has given you in order to help make the world a kinder place. If you don’t know yet what you really want to do, that’s good too because there’s plenty of time, and plenty of opportunities that won’t even come your way for a while. But I think the one thing I learned was that God doesn’t want you to be miserable. Work is going to be a big part of your life, so pick something to do that you enjoy – if you can – because you’ll be happier, and you’ll do it better than anyone would who was only doing it because they had to.

Right. I think I’ve run out of things to say. Does anyone have any questions?

the writing life

Book Review Targeter

So today I made a first step towards getting my Space Opera trilogy Lioness of Cygnus Five noticed. I have 15 reviews on the first book, and none at all on the next two or on the box set. This is deeply depressing. In an effort to take my career seriously, I’ve bought a piece of software called Book Review Targeter, which claims to make it easier to find reviewers for your books.

I liked the way I could put in ‘Space Opera’ and get a list of books returned, among which I could choose to look up reviewers for the ones that were most like my own. That seemed like it was really working.

I did not like the way the ‘Export to CSV’ function ended up giving me a single line of nonsense when I opened it in LibreOffice. Nor did I like the fact that the ‘Archive’ function does not seem to archive the information in any place you can reach afterwards. I lost the entirety of my first search by archiving it before I manually recorded the results by cutting and pasting them – and of course the lost results still counted towards my weekly allottment. Nor could they be searched for a second time.

I did not like the way that the reviewers’ website links that I clicked did not take me to reviewers’ websites – two were ‘site not found’ pages and one was a website about some Eco-company with nothing to do with books.

I was promised templates for good emails I could send to these reviewers, and there are no templates. I guess it’s possible that those were for the more expensive ‘Pro’ version.

I hope that the reviewers’ email addresses are at least sound, or this is 100% a rip off and disappointment. We’ll find out about that tomorrow, when I start writing to them.