Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Writing a Sherlock Holmes Story is More Than Elementary

I really enjoyed the first episode in the new series of 'Sherlock' on BBC 1 last Sunday called: A Study in Pink. It was billed as 'Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson's adventures in 21st Century London. A thrilling, funny, fast-paced contemporary remake of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic,' an assessment with which I would wholeheartedly agree. Conan Doyle was brilliant at concocting the cleverness of Holmes, and the writers of this series are to be congratulated on not only being able to equal that skill, but to do so with so much underlying humour and in a way that it works in a 2010 setting. Brilliant work from Doctor Who writer/producer Steven Moffat and actor/writer Mark Gatiss for their action-packed production.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role of Holmes brilliantly - although the superhuman pace of his delivery when explaining his deductions does force the mind to flounder while trying to catch up: a problem, I suppose, anyone might have when trying to keep up with Holmes. Martin Freeman plays the part of Dr. Watson, fresh from military service in Afganistan, amazed - nay mesmerised - by the brilliant deductions of his new friend Holmes. In this modern incarnation, Holmes acts as a private detective - or 'consultant' detective as he prefers to call it, when helping out the bumbling police. (Lestrade does seem a shade too fawning for a modern police inspector, however, although this is mitigated slightly be a policewoman who keeps telling Watson what a freak Holmes is.) We are told Homes doesn't get paid for this 'consultancy' work, which I slightly worry about. What is the source of his income in this mercenary world? I reckon that if he is so bright, he would be making something out of his talent rather than just 'getting off' on the excitement.

Watch out for the next two episodes!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Is there anyone out there?

It has just been announced that the space telescope 'Kepler', which has been scanning the skies for planets that are orbiting stars since it was launched in January last year, has already detected more than 100 Earth-like planets in just the  last few weeks. Now since this is not April 1st, I assume we can assume this is scientific 'cenrtainty': so far as anything is ever certain in science. This should give a boost to sci-fi authors. Even more incredible is that, according to this Daily Mail report, scientists now believe that there are likely to be around 100 million planets in the Milky Way which harbour exactly the right conditions for life - And they expect to be able to identify around 60 of these habitable Earth-like planets within the next two years! Richard Branson is no doubt already dreaming about the day he will be able to offer a passenger service to some of them. I wonder if these worlds are as 'taxing' as ours?

So, maybe we are not quite as unique as we thought. Actually, since the human race is best at destroying itself and its habitable world, it might be better for the universe if we are unique.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Raoul Moat - Stranger than Fiction

From the name to the aftermath of the death of Raoul Moat, the story is stranger than fiction. The character called 'Stevie' in my novel 'Sandman' is a weird fellow, not quite right in the head, and he can be pretty scary, but fiction could not have created a more threatening and dysfunctional man than Moat. As for the aftermath, where Siobhan O'Dowd thought it was 'funny' that Moat had managed to evade capture from police for more than a week and established the internet shrine to him, and a trader on eBay is sick enough to cash-in and sell ‘Moaty’ T-shirts depicting his face, this really is stranger than any novelist would try to get away with in fiction as the aftermath of a murder and suicide. Why? It is too unbelievable. Yet that is life, stranger than fiction, and some people just are unbelievable. Imagine what such actions mean to relatives of those affected by Moat’s violence.

It is all too sad that, when a man knows he is going off the rails, nothing is done to help him due to a real ‘Catch-22’ situation. Moat must have indicated he thought he was going a bit crazy to many of his friends and colleagues, but they would have reckoned he could not be if he could be so rational about it: Catch -22 to a tee. Apparently he made appointments for psychological treatment but did not keep them. Crazy, or what? Yet no one took the necessary steps or realised just how much help he was crying out for. Perhaps that was the one extra step that should have been taken by those who just sat back when he did not keep any of those appointments.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Cover Proofs for my debut novel 'SANDMAN' approved

I have just had a few days off - relaxing at home and taking a few trips in the beautiful Dorset countryside - including a visit to Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Sandbank, both locations used in my thriller called 'Sandman'.

It was fitting that as soon as I got back to work I found an email from my publisher with page proofs of the 'Sandman' cover. Here it is:

Since I have approved this, all the files will now be sent by the publisher to the printer - at last after so long working on this project; serious (re)work on this began in March 2009. Not that the work stops here, of course. Marketing is required by all authors in the present age of cost constraints: not always the best bit for authors who just want to write! So when the book is out, please buy a copy and tell friends about it if you like it. That will make it much easier for me to get my second book published. Just click here if you would like to read more about this psychological thriller - and its real locations on the beautiful south coast of England.

Understand the doggie mind

I have been the owner of rescue dogs for well over 20 years and I have to say that my knowledge of them at the beginning was poor, to say the least. We did not really understand our first dog, Bruno, very well, but our second dog, Meg, taught us a lot. Since then I have studied dog behaviour and can see where we used to go wrong, and I have learned how to approach training in a more informed way. I am therefore publishing a number of dog-related articles on my website to encourage more informed ownership, and you can see them listed here. If you are a first-dog owner, I hope it will be of particular value.

The first dog article I published on my author website was on stopping your dog pulling on the lead, and the second, published today, is on better understanding the dog's mind. I have included a comparision between the nature of a human and dog brain to emphasise why a dog relates to connections as opposed to reasoning. I hope you find it interesting.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Create your own website - with the minimum of tears

I am fortunately experienced enough to be able to create my own website from scratch - as I did with my travel website synergise.com - although it was a hard learning-curve. But when I wanted to create my author website, iankingsley.com, I decided it might be worthwhile investigating easier methods since the site would be considerably smaller. As a result I ended up trying out quite a lot of 'website builders': websites offering you the means of creating a website without getting involved in the background technicalities (such as HTML, cascading stylesheets, etc).

In the end, none were quite right for me, because I had some very specific needs involving interaction and random page text generation, but they would be suitable for most people who just want to create a simple first website with the minimum of tears: whether personal or business. I therefore decided to write a couple of articles to help you assess which might be best for you. If this interests you, I invite you to read Simple website generation using website builders.

If you can use a word processor, then using most of these website builders is not much more difficult. Most of them allow you to try them out for free, and this is a great way to find out which one suits you before you invest considerable time and effort. My articles are designed to minimise the time it will take you. I do hope you find them useful. The great thing about website builders is that you generally start out with a professional looking template and no one need guess you did it yourself.

A personal website is a must today for any published author, since it provides a hub where all your other online presence points; the website then becomes you point-of-sale, where you can place your sales pitch. As such, it should be the first thing you create: even it if is only a page or so, at first. It will give you the chance to buy your own long-term domain name and thereby get all your other online presence to pointing to this. That way, even if you change the method you use to edit your website, or your web host, everything will already be set up for you and you will never loose any older links.

I wish you the best of luck creating your own website.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Stop Your Dog Pulling on the Lead

If your dog tows you along it its wake, it is time to do something about it. If you always let it go way ahead of you on an extending lead, Fido probably thinks you've promoted him to Pack Leader, so he will always want to do that. You need him by your side and under control. Long-leads have their place, but that is not while walking along the pavement/sidewalk when you should have better control. More likely, however, is he is just so eager to get to the park he can't wait for you. You need to make him realise pulling is not the best plan.

Methods to stop this include stopping suddenly, then waiting for the lead to go slack before starting again, turning around to reverse the expected progress, treat training combined with the above, click treat training, or using one of the really kind and effective non-pull harnesses on the market - but not the 'wrong ones' which can injure your dog.

I've posted an article on my website on this subject which suggests 5 detailed solutions - including the harness details! I hope this helps you get to enjoy your doggie-walks a whole lot more! For the full article go to: http://www.iankingsley.com/articles/004-stop-dog-pulling.php.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The singing dancing crazy dog

I've seen some clever dogs around, but how about this? Singing and dancing to 'It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time':

That's all folks!

Authors: reject rejections!

No wannabe author needs telling it is hard to find a publisher. Most give up after a few rejections. But you cannot get there if you let rejections put you down. Let's face it, times are tough in the publishing world and a mainstream publisher really only wants to take the risk of a new author if he can see big bucks. As for an agent, his 10-15% is only of your much smaller bucks, so he or she is even harder to convince.

It is therefore heartwarming to tell the story of a young mother called Marina Fiorato who did not give up, despite her first book being rejected by every major British publisher. She has now gained a £125,000 advance for her current novel and its follow-up in the States, plus a similar deal in Germany. Her historical tale The Glassblower of Murano, set in Venice, was eventually bought by small independent UK publisher Beautiful Books and has gone on to become a bestseller in 21 languages. Marina has also been commissioned to write a movie screenplay for the book by a US producer. This is plain evidence that rejection should not be taken as a valid criticism of your work - unless, of course, there are actual words of warning within the rejection. (If there are, take some heed, for someone in the publishing world is trying to help you.)

I know all about this from personal experience. One publisher even told me a submission I made was the best she had ever received: at the same time as turning it down as 'not for her'! So hang in there and one day your route to publication will be found. Just make sure what you have written is worth the persistence, though, by getting feedback in the form of a professional critique: maybe on just the first three chapters, to keep the cost down. Professionals can tell a lot from that. Or post it on a peer review website and see what the feedback from there is like. Personally, I think this kind of unbiased feedback is far more valuable than hurried feedback from friends in  a writers' group, for they probably won't want to offend, and may have given far too little time, anyway, to truly digest your work. For similar reasons, family feedback is usually not very valuable. Peer review authors wanted to read your work, and professionals are paid to read your work. Both, hopefully, have a better idea than friends of what is publishable.

I used a peer review website for the early version of SANDMAN - although the working title then was 'Brief Respite'. Like everyone else, I got good and bad feedback, but thankfully the good encouraged and some of the bad helped me to improve. Build up confidence you have a good MS to offer, then keep at it. A rejection is merely someone declining to go into business partnership with you. Or think of it as someone who would not lift your book off the shelf in a bookshop - and then realise that most readers would not lift the majority of books of that same bookshelf, simply because it was not their thing; that hardly reflects on all the other authors represented on the shelves, does it?

Yes, rejection hurts. But, as an author, you need to harden up and get realistic, it's all part of the process.  You need to learn to reject rejection as personal criticism and hang in there. Success will be all the sweeter.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Show Not Tell - unless your fame lets you off the hook!

The well-known adage 'show, not tell', is constantly bandied on creative writing courses and in articles on writing fiction. I fully agree this is very sound advice. It is therefore most frustrating when you read highly successfully authors who 'tell, not show'. So why do they do this? Probably because it is far easier, and amidst their signing tours and talks, it becomes increasingly more difficult to actually find the time to write. My article on this subject, Show not tell—for starters! proves the point by taking a couple of examples from a very well-established crime writer.

The fact is that many famous writers get away with 'telling', and this can be very misleading to wannabe novelists. (Telling was the traditional way to tell stories, in any case.) The reason why you should take the 'show, not tell' advice very seriously as an author is that publishers demand it of a debut novelist: because it shows they have real writing ability. Once you start 'telling' the reader stuff then you come to the forefront as the author and it tends to ruin what publishers call the 'suspension of disbelief'. If you show the same information through the eyes or mind of a character, however, your authorial presence remains remote and the reader can become more deeply involved in the story. Follow the old adage and your reader will be happier - as will your potentional publishers.

Check out my article for a more detailed treatise, with examples.

Two Little Bibles for Writers

I have been referring to Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers for years. This little book clarifies those uncertainties when it comes to typographical subtleties. Although equally well established, I have only recently discovered The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This provides some excellent advice on how to write well, and in a concise manner; appropriately, the book itself is very concise. So I would recommend both of these little books to be on any serious writer's bookshelf, especially any self-publishers on whom the burden of perfection now truly falls. It is interesting that both these works have been around for many years.