Tag Archives: creative writing

London Book Fair pt 2

Further work to prepare myself for visiting the London Book Fair.

I have looked through the list of agents who are attending and researched which (a) are open to submissions (b) are interested in science fiction (c) which agents within the company are those who hold that brief (d) what books they like and other interests (e) were they are based. The idea is to have a short list of a dozen or so who seem a good fit – they would potentially like the book and could we work together.

I’m not expecting to get signed up there and then, but want to have a better chance of being looked at if they agree to receive the manuscript. As it inevitably says in most of the rejection letters I have received, whether an agent decides to take on a client is as much about “fit” as the quality of the book. Do they personally like it, does it fit the current marketplace, and are you the sort of person they will be happy to work with.

The marketplace issue is an interesting one. Publishers need to signal to potential readers why they should stump up the cost of buying the book. If they can describe it as “like a, b or c” that make that job easier. Everything from the blurb to the cover to the media releases will then be geared to make it look as much like other books you like as possible. Breaking through a book that doesn’t fit that easily into a category is that much harder.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was a wonderful book but not one that slotted comfortably into an existing genre. The hardback was therefore heavily discounted when it was launched and a lot of effort was put into getting advance plaudits from people who the public recognise and like. Once it had taken off, it opened the door to market other books as being “like The Night Circus”. Almost inevitably there will be a lot of books over the next few years that are pale imitations and dilute the genre. That category of novels will either grow if there are sufficient which are good enough to build a market, or will wither away leaving Morgenstern to stand alone.

A good example is steam punk, which my novel The Revolutionary Tapestry shares elements with. The initial examples by Tim Powers, James Blaylock, K.W.Jeter, and the one off collaboration by Sterling and Gibson “The Difference Engine” used the idea of an alternative Victorian setting in interesting ways. Most of the subsequent works have taken the superficial elements of the setting and lost what the originals were about. That doesn’t mean they are bad books – just ones that are comforting rather than challenging. One of the joys of the Difference Engine is that it makes you look at not only Victorian England but the present day in a new way. I hope The Revolutionary Tapestry does the same, but also incorporates the fun element of Steampunk at its best – Powers The Anubis Gates being the best example of this.

The same goes for alternative history. Philip K Dick’s Man in the High Castle was a brilliant novel which asked important questions about being human in a world under a malign government and the nature of reality.  Just as with Steampunk, other worthwhile novels in the same genre are fun explorations of “what if”. However there are also scores of novels that simply write a straightforward  narrative with some historical research for seasoning.

I have always loved the writing of Alfred Jarry and the many other movements and artists he has inspired. His life is as fantastic as any of his writings and he lived in a period which not only was filled with equally enthralling people, but contains the seeds of our world today in the issues it faced. The scientific advances, the political challenge of anarchism and communism. Imperialism and its effect on the subjugated populations. The enormous gap between rich and poor. Struggles with equality and sexuality and what it means to be a man or a woman. Not to mention the anti-Semitism and general racism. At the same time people were investigating the nature of mind with neuroscience, psychology and altered states of consciousness as well as exploring the works of eastern science and esoteric beliefs.

An alternative history novel where the Paris Commune of 1871 didn’t fall but succeeded and ran France seemed a good way of exploring some of these themes and the idea of the Tapestry – a proto internet based on a combination of radio and punch cards gave me not only a way of looking at information, disinformation and its political effect but also a metaphor for the way the story weaves together different lives and plot strands   as well as themes. I also stole a few techniques from John Dos Passos (without the level of skill or complexity I fear) to paint the society in both width and depth.

Most of all, I wanted it to be fun –  not laugh out loud funny but fast paced, exciting and witty in both the overall story and lots of the details. It is not Jarryesque in its style (I am definitely not worthy) but hopefully it has his sense of invention and playfulness. Some of the jokes also come from weaving some of the ideas in his writing into the plot and scenes.

One of my pre-readers suggested it could easily be taken as an historical novel if you didn’t know enough about the period to see where the timelines diverged and where the real ends and extrapolation begins. However Alastair Brotchie’s marvellous biography of Jarry and Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years do such a good job of describing the reality it would be pointless retelling the truth.

Jules is doing a wonderful job re-reading it to identify issues (as well as the typos etc I have inevitably still missed so I will do the final revise today, cut it up again into the various different sizes that are needed for different agents, and rehearse an elevator pitch so I can make the best first impression I can.

 

 

Under review

I was pleased to find in looking at the Amazon page for my short story collection – The Cat Factory and other stories by Tim Newton Anderson – that it had some very positive reviews.

One of them was from a friend – albeit one I have only seen once since leaving university thirty odd years ago – but the other two were from people I don’t know. All of them gave me five stars and very positive reviews.

It is always worrying when you put something out there that it will be received negatively. Performing on stage is not too bad. You may not get the reaction you want but it is over quickly and you move on to the next event. It’s only if you continually get bad responses you start to worry. My former band guitarist always reckoned you get gigs in a set of three threes – one bad, one ok and one good. Sometimes you just aren’t feeling it, sometimes the audience are not in the mood or are more interested in chatting, and sometimes there isn’t enough audience there to create any kind of atmosphere.

With music you can also quickly go back and work out how to improve the next performance. It is harder with a book. Once it is out there it stays out there. Jules is doing an audio recording for me of the collection and in preparing the files for her to scroll through I’ve noticed several typos I missed despite lots and lots of proofreading. Nothing that major but still annoying to me – and more importantly to the reader.

I also keep thinking of ways to tweak the stories to make them better. If I’m totally honest I’m not sure I would award the collection five stars, because I can see ways in which it could be improved. Perhaps the important thing is the reader’s reaction. They only know what they read and whether they enjoy it – not what I was trying to do with the story. cover

Poetry Rock

I’ve never really been able to do poetry, although I’m quite good at writing song lyrics. I have no idea why I just don’t get how to write a poem.

It may be in part because I don’t understand what differentiates poetry from lyrical prose or plain lyrics. Songs I understand – there is a form to follow. You need to follow rhyme and scansion – even if you can cheat a bit and use half rhymes or assonance, and you can mess about a bit with the length of lines by stretching or compressing words or lengthening bars. I can sort of do lyrical prose as well by working with the rhythms of a sentence and the imagery. But when does that stop and poetry start – especially with free verse.

I am always in awe when I see performance poets in particular – my friend Olly Watson is brilliant at it. I can recognise that when he tells a story it is a poem – even when he uses a structure that on paper would be more like prose. I just can’t do it myself.

Perhaps it is an OuLiPo thing that allows me to write lyrics and not poetry – the constraints of the form are actually freeing rather than restricting – or perhaps it is just that my brain is hardwired for patterns. The structure is less obvious when I write prose, but it is always there. I always have an overarching plot, story arcs for the characters, threaded metaphors and allusions, and a number of set pieces I want to place in the correct pattern. A lot of the stories also place within a meta pattern as a close up on a single part of a larger body of work – a bit like those photo puzzles where you have to identify an item from a small element.

The songs are part of that too – I mention in the novel I’m revising at the moment that the lead character is writing a musical based on the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the Comedia Del Arte canon but set against the backdrop of municipal corruption on Tyneside in the 70s. The novel itself is set against the same background and one of the songs I would use if I ever get round to writing said musical is featured. Others pop up in other stories – never miss a chance to reuse something you’ve done in another context. In the same way stuff I’ve done for writing exercises has made its way into larger works, and I’ve often used bits of the same  research to inform stories with radically different settings, genres and feel.

But poetry…I wish I could do what James Branch Cabell did and hide whole poems inside his novels by punctuating them as prose. One to think about.

Publish – and prepare to be damned

cover

My first short story collection – The Cat factory and other stories is now available to buy from Amazon as an e-book. You can buy it for the very reasonable price of £2.08 (you have to set a price in dollars and this was as near as I could get to £1.99 with the current exchange rate) by visiting either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com at searching for The Cat Factory and other stories. Or, you could always borrow it for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited customer (and then buy it).

This is a bit scary – I’ve shared stories with friends but now the great reading public across the world will be able to read and judge for themselves. As soon as you press the publish button, no matter how well you think you have done, the doubts start in your head. Did I sort out all the grammar and spelling properly? Are the cover and illustrations good enough? Most of all, are the stories actually any good? They are the best I can make them without descending into the madness of revision after trivial revision, but how many people will agree?

If you do read it and enjoy it I would appreciate reviews. If you read it and don’t like it, keep your opinions to yourself! (That was a joke – honest feedback is always welcomed).

 

 

Transreal Fiction

I noticed when editing my short story collection how many times I use my recurring character Tom Robinson – a person who shares a lot of their life experiences with me.
Part of the reason for this is that I wanted to use a lot of the events I have lived through and the feelings I had at the time so it seemed “honest” to have a reasonably accurate version of me go through them in the story. I hope I have been careful not to make Tom a hero but a person who shares my flaws as well as my strengths.
Another reason is that I was attracted to Rudy Rucker’s concept of Transreal fiction where you use your own life as a jumping off point in fantasy or science fiction so that the characters are realistic even if the setting is fantastic.
Other authors have used the inclusion of a “me” character as wish fulfilment, but I didn’t want to do that. Tom is normally the narrator retelling what has happened to other characters while he is only a peripheral part of the action.
There are exceptions – particularly the “Dulwich” short story and novel – based on my experiences as a journalist but taking their stylistic cues from two alumni of Dulwich School: P.G.Wodhouse and Raymond Chandler respectively.
The short story – included in The Cat Factory and Other Stories and attached below as a free taster – is a farce where I tried to emulate Wodhouse’s wonderful domino rally plotting. The plot elements are carefully installed at the start and you then just push the first one over and see the pattern emerge as they tumble.
The novel is a noirish crime story with a lot of black humour in the background. A dark sense of humour is endemic in journalism as well as other professions where you deal with the aftermath of tragedy on a regular basis. It gives you a way of being empathic but keeping a degree of distance.
Most of the background incidents in both stories are completely true, although the characters they happen to are removed from reality in order to protect the innocent (and me from libel, although I still have the notebooks). The newspaper I worked for has already featured in one comic novel: Yeah,Yeah, Yeah by Angus McGill, and formed the basis for Norman Wisdom’s Press for Time.
As well as putting in a fictional crime plot I used the mythic subtext of the Fisher King legend. It is set in the Queen’s Jubilee year of 1977 when Elvis died and punk was king. It was also a year of economic and political turmoil as Militant Tendency were struggling for the soul of the Labour Party and the seeds of the Thatcherite revolution and the death of Tyneside’s traditional heavy industries were being sown, as well as the start of change in the newspaper industry as it moved from hot metal to litho and computers. It seemed the perfect setting for a coming of age story with the death of the Council leader echoing the death of so many other things we thought would keep getting better in the heady freedom of the sixties.

Although on the face of it the novel is in the crime genre, I added a few things to make it an alternate reality novel – just because I could.

Tom so far has featured in two novels and five short stories – nine if you realise he is the unnamed narrator of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics stories. He will feature again in the rest of the novels in the series started with Masonic Fire and may have a walk on part in the Three Wise Monkeys stories.

To read Identity Crisis click here

Self Publishing

I’m busy preparing my short story collection The Cat Factory and other stories for publication via Amazon. It seems pretty straightforward so far.
There are, of course, lots of paperwork to sort out. As Amazon only has a US based service, although I can sign in via Amazon UK, I have to give details so I don’t pay US taxes and then declare them on my UK tax form.
It also allows you to create a cover so I could use one of the drawings I created.
I also used my new writing name – Tim Newton Anderson. I decided to add the middle name as there are a lot of Tim Anderson’s on the internet, including someone who won Masterchef in the UK a few years ago, and someone who writes on IT. Newton is my mother’s maiden name so it seemed a good option. I am the only person with that name who comes up on Google at the moment.
I also created a publisher with a few keystrokes – ATJ Entertainments which is the partnership my wife and I formed when we took over the hotel.
This is exciting and scary at the same time. Doing everything yourself avoids the trauma of someone else messing about with what you have written – although as an ex journalist I’m used to someone changing my words. However I am now the only person I can complain to if there are problems.
It also means I have to do my own marketing so I’ve been busy researching potential blogging reviewers, how to use sites like Bookbub etc, and thinking of a strategy for discounts etc. as well as ways to get followers so I can get the news out as soon as widely as possible.
Watch this space for more information and a launch date.

Making a Pen and Ink

The Cat factory

The Cat Factory

tangled in the tree of ghosts

Tangled In the Tree of Ghosts

Sniffing Out The Truth

Sniffing Out The Truth

stripping the past

Stripping the Past

I’ve been preparing the various short stories I’ve written to publish as an e-book on Amazon.

I decided it needed some illustrations and rather than get someone to do them thought I would have a go myself. I haven’t done much drawing for forty years so getting out the Rotoring pens was fun as well as a challenge.

I’ve never been that good at freestyling so used some photographs as a basis and then adjusting the images to fit the stories. They were drawn freehand, however, rather than copying or tracing. I’m not sure they are that good, but I’m quite proud of them so have pasted some below.

Those familiar with the work of Georges Perec may recognise the inspiration of the first of these – appropriate as the inspiration of the story it comes from: The Cat Factory, was also inspired by Perec’s life and writing.

 

In jokes and obscure references

I have to admit I love texts that include in jokes and references to other books and media. That’s why I’m such a fan of Philip Jose Farmer, Kim Newman and Howard Waldrop.
When I wrote The Revolutionary Tapestry I wanted to do some of this myself. Not just because it would be fun to do, and hopefully fun for readers who spotted them, but because it is an alternative world novel. One of the recurring jokes is that incidents in the book inspire later writers – including Jarry himself. A case of art imitating life.
The Jarry references are the key ones – there are scenes that reflect elements of The Supermale, Days and Nights, Le Dragonne and some of his journalism. The other references – more obvious to those who don’t have a good knowledge of Jarry – are around the Fantome character. He is supposed to be the inspiration for Fantomas, the Phantom of the Opera, the title character in the Werewolf of Paris, and the Lone Ranger!  There are also references to Verne’s Robur the Conqueror.

This came as a bit of light relief to the historical research I had to do to get the period right. All bar two of the speaking parts are real people and have largely the same back story as they did in our world. The trick to this was to avoid the “Hello Mr Wilde, have you met your fellow Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.” school of historical fiction – normally worse in visual media than written. I don’t mind a bit of name dropping if it is done subtly: “Roger saw the man he was after – he was at the far side of the room talking to the Prince of Wales”. Generally,however, if I was going to introduce someone I wanted to have a reason for them being there.

The other challenge I wanted to overcome was the need to drop in background information without a reason for doing so in the plot. It is difficult to totally avoid it, but by including some of it in during reflection by characters on their current situation I hope I avoided the worst of it.

 

The Dreamweaver gets weaving

I’ve sold, written and despatched my first commercial short story as The Dreamweaver. The idea, as detailed on the page https://atjentertainments.wordpress.com/the-dreamweaver is that people fill out the order form giving details about the genre, characters etc so they can have a story written featuring themselves, friends or relatives.

It is a very stimulating challenge as it means I have to create a unique story every time around a small amount of information, in whatever setting and style people want. It’s not quite the blend of maths and art in an Oulipo constrained work, but it does get the creative juices flowing.

The inspiration was work by Harlan Ellison in the 70s and others since, where they would sit in a bookshop window with a target of so many short stories written during the day. I am in the Leaves of Dreams shop in Watton each Wednesday so I can produce stories to order for customers.

The joy of the internet, of course, is that I can always research further information via Facebook or other social media so I get a feel of the person who will feature. Even so, it means creating something that has been commissioned and which I hope will be exactly what the purchaser wants. You may have thought it was selling my soul as a writer by  producing something to order, but in fact it is as much fun as the normal process of starting from an idea and working out exactly what I want to say.

The main challenge I face is being disciplined in only writing as many words as they are paying for. I tend to let stories run to their natural length so shoehorning something into one, two or three thousand words can be difficult. This is partly because I enjoy plotting and short fiction tends to be harder to include both plot and character without sacrificing one for the other. I don’t want to produce things that have no depth.

Still, I’m looking forward to more commissions.