Monday, July 30, 2012

What Makes a Character Real?

A question all authors strive to understand and answer. This is what Indie author Gary Tinnams thinks...

Is it the description of long blonde hair? Pursed lips? Delicate eyes? Smooth glowing skin?
Well actually those are just descriptions, and while they help to create a mental picture of a character, they do not make the character real.
Is it the fact they get angry? Sad? Frustrated? Or they fall in love? Or they hurt themselves?
Those are feelings, reactions to situations. Like descriptions they are important, and they give a certain amount of emotional definition. But again, they do not make a character real.
Actually the most important thing a character can do is make decisions.
Yes, decisions, it's as simple as that, decisions make a character real. When a character makes a decision then he or she will change from being a passive force within the story to an active force. In fact each decision they make becomes pivotal to them, the plot and all the other characters. A passive character reacts to the plot in order to survive and that is all. Basically they are the novel equivalent of a wet blanket. Why would the reader care about them when they don't care enough about themselves to shape their own destiny?
A character that makes decisions basically says, 'No! I will not just do as I am told, I will decide for myself.' With each decision the reader gets more interested because as a rule they will always be on the side of those who fight for themselves. The decision making process creates conflict, creates drama, and makes the reader ask the question: "What is that character going to do now?" Once the reader asks that question, then the character has become real, and the author has succeeded.

Brilliant Gary! A conundrum we have all sweated and suffered sleepless nights over, and you simplify it to the need for our characters to make decisions!

Monday, July 23, 2012


With his novel The Pirates of Maryland Point soon to launch, Dot Gumbi shares his experiences of self-publishing.

Let’s start at the beginning…why self-publish? Isn’t that just what writers do when they can’t bag an agent or publisher? In my case, no. My decision to self-publish was based solely on timing and the need to get my book to market fast. Self-publishing was the quickest way to do this as within forty-eight hours I accomplished what would’ve taken an agent and publisher months.
I didn’t want to self-publish. I wanted an agent. A publisher. A string of industry types throwing advances at me, hounding me day and night to sign a deal. But that didn’t happen because I ran out of time.
In the winter of 2011 I found myself working with a moderately successful children’s author. I told him about my novel and asked for some advice on how best to approach publishers and agents, thinking he might hand me a golden ticket. But all he gave me was bad news.
When I told him my novel was about Cockneys and pirates trying to find the Holy Grail beneath the Olympic stadium in Stratford, he laughed at me. And not because of the plot, but because of the timeframe. Even though the Olympics were still eight months away, he said it would be highly unlikely that the book could be turned around in that time by an agent/publisher and that I was best to go it alone.
I thought he was talking tripe. After all, hadn’t I seen books about William and Kate’s wedding in The Works just days after the event? Surely a publisher could turn a book round quickly if needed.
Not fiction, it seems.
He cited his own experiences saying that from submission to publication it had taken two years for his first novel to see daylight. And that his second one had taken longer. Admittedly, this was due to the fact he required an illustrator, but still, I didn’t like the sound of this slow process. And rather than miss the deadline and put three years of work on the shelf, I decided to take the plunge and self-publish.
I did some research and decided to use as my self-publishing base.
Lulu will take your novel no matter what you’ve written and will produce it in a wide range of formats. You can have colour covers, interiors, hardback, paperback, you name it, they pretty much do it all. And the site is relatively easy to navigate too. Following their online guides I quickly obtained information on books sizes and layouts and then formatted my Word document accordingly.
The cover designer is a little bit trickier. You can either use their online step-by-step tool to create one, or supply your own. I supplied my own (I’m a graphic designer by day) so I had an advantage there. However, even if you’re relatively inexperienced the instructions are clear and Lulu even calculate how wide your spine will be so you can supply one wrap around cover if you wish.
Lulu also offer ISBN numbers and provide you with the barcode to download and add to your cover and copyright page. You should write your own copyright page. Knowing nothing about copyright I basically looked at some recent novels on my shelf and copied the broad strokes from there.

So, I had a cover designed. A novel formatted. And, rather excitingly, an actual barcode. I took the plunge and placed an order for a proof copy. All novels must be proofed before you ‘release’ them to the world. This is a small bit of quality control on Lulu’s part. They don’t care what you’ve written, they just want you to be happy with it. My order arrived within 3 days.

It was full of errors.

My errors – small things like typos here and there. I immediately set to work and got a team of friends and a copywriter chum to go through it. This took about a month, but it was worth it. When they’d finished with their red pens, I made the changes to my Word document, re-uploaded, ordered another proof copy, checked it – and everything was perfect.

I then ‘approved’ the book, set my price, and told Lulu that, yes, I was more than happy for them to promote my novel for me. (They offer a free package whereby your work is available on a host of sites, sadly all of them American. You get listed on but not

And that was it. Easy. Published. No need for agents. No need for publishers. Just me. Feet up. Job done.

But you don’t just want a hard copy of your book, do you?
Kindles are big business. On the train to work everyday I see hundreds of them. And if you are self-publishing it makes sense to have a digital version of your work. The problem is, it’s not that easy to create one.

Take the Kindle for example. You can only upload your work onto that through the KDP website. Lulu only offer digital copies for formats such as iPad. If you want to offer your work on a wide range of platforms, beware. You’ll need more than one site to do this. KDP don’t want you to put your work on other formats. They’ll try and lock you into a 90 days exclusivity contract in which your work is available for Kindle only. I leave it to you to weigh up the pros and cons of that. I don’t have 90 days to wait, so I’m not locking into it.

As someone who works in design and knows a thing or two about computers I thought I’d be able to waltz through the digital bit with ease. Wrong. In fact, if anything, I overcomplicated it.
For the most part you don’t need all the bells and whistles and technical knowledge of Clive Sinclair. All you need is Microsoft Word. And a tidy document.

A tidy document is one that is formatted to meet the strict guidelines. You’ll need to read the websites for the full guides (and try not to fall asleep) but basically it means having your chapter headings in one style and your bodycopy in another. Doing this makes the document easier to digest and turn into a digital format. It’s absolutely essential that you format properly, otherwise the computer will reject the file when you upload it. After several attempts and a bit of swearing I managed to get mine through on the Kindle Direct Publishing website. Within twelve hours it was listed worldwide on all Amazon platforms.

And that was that. Now I just wait for an email confirming 40,000 orders.


Programs such as Calibre are an invaluable tool for converting books into different formats. A little tricky to use at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. See it as a big stereo converting vinyl to tape, or reel-to-reel to CD. It’s the same principal. You select your format and its conversion stuff will do the rest.

Cheap proof copies of your novel?

I ordered a proof copy through Lulu for just £7.19 (including shipping). That is nothing short of amazing. It would cost me over £10 to get it printed on bog-standard A4 from a copy shop in Chelmsford, when for less money I could have it bound! You don’t have to list your project publicly, so it’s a great way to get a proof copy, if like me, you find it easier to make corrections in print rather than on screen. 


Good luck with hitting the 40,000 orders Dot!

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Writebulb Experience

A brilliant insight by Margo - but what's this talk of blame?

I’m registering a serious complaint about this Writebulb business. I want to know what right you think you have to stuff my head full of characters. Don’t say it’s nothing to do with you – all these strange people were certainly not there six months ago. I was just a normal person, going about my normal daily life, no bother to anyone.
Now I wake up in bed every morning with a different man – or woman. They shout at me. Loudly. “Write my story. Get out of bed and write my story.” They won’t give me a moment’s peace till my computer starts melting under my frantic fingers. And I’ve forgotten what breakfast tastes like.
Some of them are really fun guys and I wish they would stay around longer, but sometimes I have trouble remembering which one is me. Then, if I have the cheek to go out without writing their precious stories, they get their own back. When I actually settle down to write they change their minds – which were crystal clear originally – and I lose the thread. And I can do enough of that without their help, thank you.
This morning I woke up with a CB radio operator, full of the unfairness of it all. He had waited 4 long years for the Olympic torch to come to Chelmsford; he had set up all his radio gear and he was looking forward to broadcasting to the biggest world-wide network of his life. Then, of course, disaster struck. I say of course because there wouldn’t be much of a story without a disaster, would there?
Anyway, he hadn’t slept a wink the night before and leapt out of bed at four o’clock to be absolutely sure of making the most of the day.
You’ve guessed it. His bedclothes were so tangled he fell, bang, on the floor. Or rather, he fell, crack, on the floor. His right leg migrated to a strange angle and he didn’t need his wife to tell him he’d gone and broken it. So doubly devastated he spent the morning in A & E on a gurney, in the corner of a corridor, waiting to see a doctor. Nothing but white walls to look at and painkillers for breakfast. By the time he got to the ward it was too late. It was all over, even the shouting. Even worse, his mates would be talking for ever about their morning using his equipment.
You try taking all that in without creasing up, especially while another voice-in-the-head is telling you what a wonderful man she met at a Jubilee party.
Come on Writebulb. Gimme a break. How about sending me an extra pair of hands and another computer to go with them? Then maybe I could write two stories at the same time!
“Don’t get me wrong, you guys-in-my-head. I love you all and I’ll write you all up if you’ll only stop squabbling and form a nice orderly queue, preferably after breakfast.”

Of course, it would be wonderful to find someone who wanted to hear MY story instead. But it doesn’t pay to live in cloud-cuckoo land, does it?

Thanks Margo for giving us all a good laugh! How well we know the frustration that comes when we delay long enough to eat!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some Of My Favourite Authors

This week Bev has shared her favourite authors with us.

I have read many books in my time but like most people I gravitate towards my favourite authors. I enjoy books with defined characters, a personality described so well I feel I have already met them. To nail a character; their habits, attitude, turn of phrase, reactions to situations is a true skill. If an author can get under the skin of a character they have mastered the skill of writing in my opinion.
I like a scene described so well I feel I am standing right in the middle of it.  Other features I like described in a story are; the type of weather, the time of day, whether daylight or darkness, the smell and sound of a place. If an author can describe a scene where I actually feel as if I have been there then I certainly consider they know their craft. An example of this is Ian McEwan who is certainly skilled in his craft. I recently read his 2005 book Saturday a menacing tale set in modern day London. He has the gift of minutely describing a scene before getting to grips with the plot.

Another author I respect is Deborah Moggach, especially her earlier work. She can describe inner emotions so well you don’t have any choice but to empathise with the character. Deep emotions are her speciality, described so well in her books you understand how the character feels and why they react to situations. I have to say “Yes I know just how that feels” when I read her books. Driving in the Dark is a favourite, which must have been particularly difficult to write as she chose to make the main character a man.
Another favourite author is Daphne Du Maurier who lived in Fowey in Cornwall, a place I am very familiar with by coincidence. She captured all the wildness of the rugged Cornish coastline in her stories. Mysterious dangerous seas, smugglers tales and evil characters feature in her books. She tells a good story, leaving you wanting more at the end of every chapter. A master of suspense I particularly liked The House On The Strand. Again a female author writing with the main character as a man, not an easy task.

I’m very impatient when reading a book and the author has to grab me in the first chapter otherwise I give up because I feel I am wasting my time. But a good book that grabs me with its characters, settings and of course a good story will always be a hit with me.
Thanks Bev!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Alana Siegel Book Review

I have recently been editing a book, Alana Siegel’s The Retreat, and decided I would share my views on it.
The second book in the Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program series, this book is as well written and as captivating as the first. Following the lives of gifted teenagers, you watch them grow up as they learn to deal with problems – both relating to their gifts, and normal teenage dilemmas. You find yourself living the experience with them, empathising with their issues; only some of which we can relate to. Written in first person, this frame work makes it easy to connect with the main character but often detaches you from the supporting cast; which doesn’t happen here. While reading it I had to keep a box of tissues handy as I found myself crying whenever Olivia’s boyfriend hurt her, yet I could still empathise with Max when he was torn up about his sister. This book is so gripping you are dragged into the story and become unable to put it down. This book ends on a cliff-hanger, and it kept me up half the night wondering what came next – I even caught myself trying to make it up so I could get over it and get some sleep!

I am currently on tenterhooks waiting for Alana to write the third book in the series so I can find out what happens to this brilliant cast of characters next.

Book 1 of the Gifted Program

Book 2: The Retreat is due for release sometime this summer.