I checked out the company’s website and discovered they made no mention of this. In fact, they said exactly the opposite. They claimed to be a traditional publisher, not vanity or subsidy, and they offered contracts to authors on whose work they were willing to take a chance.
I’d argue with the word ‘publisher’. They were more of a design set-up.
In principle there is nothing wrong with any company offering this kind of service, but they should be up front about it. Of course, it could have been an oversight. It could be that they had changed their stance and forgotten to update the site. But that hardly qualified them as a professional outfit.
Looking deeper into the site I found other things that troubled me. Their editing service started at £50, but that figure was dependant on word count. May I ask how anyone can offer a professional editing service when they don’t know the difference between dependant (a noun indicating a person who relies upon something or someone) and dependent (an adjective indicating a conditional clause). Another oversight? I’d have to think seriously about allowing this kind of company anywhere near my manuscript.
In 30 years or more of placing work in long and short form, I have never yet paid to have anything published. Editing and other services cost me on my self-published work, naturally, but my editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam, is a professional: she misses nothing. Maureen also edits all my published work BEFORE it goes to the publisher, and of course, that work doesn’t come free, but it’s my choice. When it comes to the production of the book, Crooked Cat charge nothing. Neither do they bill me for cover design, formatting, ISBNs, or any of the 101 other bits and pieces which go to putting a book together.
Writers beware. When someone asks you to get your cheque book out, make sure you know what you’re getting into.
I was reminded of this after STAC Mystery #7, The Chocolate Egg Murders, picked up a 5* customer review last week. Mrs J Gore, the lady in question, enjoyed not only this tale, but all the STACs, and she said:
It’s also great to read a story where the writer doesn’t need to include thef word to try to make his point.
The STAC Mysteries are modelled on the traditional British whodunit, and the golden rule is, no sex, no violence, no strong language, and the word “f**k” cannot be found anywhere in them. The same goes for the Spookies Mysteries.
As a team, Crooked Cat and I go further. In one title, I had Joe cracking a gag, the essence of which was that someone missed the ‘o’ out of the word ‘count’. Laurence at Crooked Cat still felt it was too strong, and during the editing stage, I removed it and replaced it with a different gag.
If you’re looking for the halo over my head, don’t. I come from an industrial background, and I’m no stranger to hearing and using such terminology. I often say that the three languages I’m most fluent in are English, rubbish and bad. And when I lose my cool, I don’t really care who hears me. I had a sign in the window at home aimed at salespeople, bible bashers and politicians. It simply said, “If you don’t like being told to fuck off, don’t knock.” The missus made me take it down, not because she disagreed with the sentiments, but because she was worried what the neighbours may think. My response was the neighbours can f—”.
Her Indoors told me to shut up.
I use the word in fiction, too. The Handshaker contains the word or one of its variations 34 times, Voices, 15 times. Both works are over 100,000 words, so it’s not like you’ll stumble across it every other page, but it’s there. I only know this because I’ve just done a universal search and replace on the original manuscripts. I don’t routinely stop to count how many times I’m using such language. I’ve never bothered to check on how often Flatcap uses the word, either, but he’s a grouchy old bugger, so it’s probably frequent.
Mrs Gore does raise a valid point, however. Is the use of such language in fiction really necessary? My position is a qualified yes.
It’s so commonplace there days that its shock value has diminished to almost nothing, so if the writer is trying to reflect real life, then its use in dialogue is acceptable. If the writer is trying to stress a level of vehemence, then it’s use in dialogue is acceptable.
But when it comes to the STAC and Spookies Mysteries, I’ll carry on finding other methods for letting Joe and Co to get their hair off.
People are asking, “How do you do it?” I don’t ask. Why? Because I write at that kind of speed myself. Writing the first draft of my novels, long or short, takes about month. If you’re doubtful about this, two years ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel in ONE WEEK. Independently verified, I turned out 60,000 words in seven days.
And do you know what the big secret is? There is no secret. Instead it’s all about man hours.
Ask yourself, how fast do you type? I can manage about 30-35 words per minute. Simple arithmetic will tell you that I can write 1,000 words in about half an hour. Let’s be generous and say that anyone can write one thousand words in one hour. Believe me, that’s quite slow.
The bog-standard novel is 100,000 words. Based on our calculations, that comes to 100 hours. I’m retired. I don’t do anything other than write. If I want to write a book in a month, I need only put in 25 hours a week, or five hours a day, which will allow me two days off.
Does writing a book so quickly seem so difficult now?
Naturally many people have full time jobs. They can’t give 25 hours a week to a novel. Suppose you can only give 10 hours?
You’ll still write it in 10 weeks.
You need one or two other things, as well. First, you need to know where the book is going. Not all the intricacies, the ins and outs of every scene, but certainly a good overview. Does that mean planning? That’s up to the individual. I find planning restrictive, so I don’t bother, but I still know where I’m going with the tale.
You need tunnel vision. When knocking out that first draft, I don’t stop to correct errors. I just keep on typing. Every chapter is a separate file, and at most I run a spellcheck when the chapter is finished. The rest can come at the editing stage.
Forget the flowery adjectives and adverbs. Most of those should be eliminated anyway, but if you want them in, do it during the editing. Forget the synonyms, unless they come naturally as you’re working. They can be slotted in when you’re editing.
Suppose you’re working away and you come to a dead end? You don’t know what happens next. No problem. Move on to another part of the book where you do know what happens next. We read books in a linear fashion, but we don’t have to write them like that.
Many writers will advise you, “Once it’s done, put it away for a couple of months, then come back to it.” I say that’s up to you, if our enthusiasm is still there, go back to page one and start working your way through it again. For me, I only leave a WIP when I’m thoroughly bored with it.
And that brings me to another ingredient you will need. Enthusiasm.
My hard drive is chocabloc with tales I’ve started, got XX,000 words in and abandoned because I ran out of patience and/or ideas. You need zeal, and to her credit, Catriona is as passionate now as she was with book #1.
And I say, well done, Catriona. I’m sure books #9 and #10 will be every bit as exciting as #1 and #2
I’ve known today’s guest, Lorraine Mace, for a good number of years, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her advice helped with one or two of my early projects.
Lorraine is incredibly busy in the writing world (see links at the bottom of the post). She also write novels as both herself and Frances di Plino. How does she find the time? I’ll leave it to lorraine to tell you more.
When writing a guest post on the topic of writing output, it’s probably not a good idea to do it for the blog of someone like David, whose prodigious productivity leaves mine in the shade! However, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Although I am involved full time in various aspects of writing (it’s how I earn my living) my creative writing time is limited. I spend more hours mentoring other authors through several drafts of their novels than I do writing my own. I run a private critique service and also critique short stories for one of the top writing magazines in the UK. I am a columnist for another. I run three international writing competitions. To promote the books I have already had published, I also run two blogs.
So, as you can see, there is very little time left over for new creative writing.
If you add to the above the fact that I am a novelist under two names, Lorraine Mace and Frances di Plino, you’ll realise that I have to be very disciplined with my time.
Under my real name, I am the author of a trilogy for children, the first of which, Vlad the Inhaler, was published earlier this year. The second in the trilogy has already been accepted for publication in 2015, but I still have to write the third and final book.
As Frances di Plino, I write crime and the fourth in the Detective Inspector Paolo Storey series is due out in October. However, I now need to get started on the next in the series for publication next year!
So, how have I managed to find the time to write, edit, rewrite, edit again, rewrite and so on, four crime novels and three children’s novels (two of Vlad, plus the first in a new series, which is with my agent) while keeping my head above water with my various day jobs?
I’m glad you asked, because this post will explain how you, too, can fit writing around your busy lives without needing to lock yourself away from family for hours at a time.
I set myself daily targets of 500 words, which means the absolute longest it would take me to write an 85,000-word crime novel would be slightly less than six months. That’s all – think about it, if you wrote a measly 500 words a day for six months you, too, would have a complete novel to your name.
Even if you wanted to have weekends off, you could run up 85,000 words Monday to Friday in 35 weeks.
All writers can put down 500 words as long as they have a clear idea of what it is they have to write each day, which means, if you follow my plan, you need to have a scene by scene structure to follow. Actually, even if you can knock out 10,000 words a day, it’s still a good idea to have a structure to follow!
On the text of the novel document, before I shut down after writing the 500 words, I make notes about what to write the next day. Just a few lines, not even proper sentences, but it means I can pick up where I left off without having to read over what I’ve written the day before. For example: Paolo talks to Barbara about stab wounds – Sean knocked down by Michael – Paolo brings team up to date
Obviously, there are days when I have time to write more than 500 words, but I look on such occasions as a bonus. The next day I still stick to my 500 word target.
So, if you want to write a novel, but have a demanding job or a busy family life, or both, try setting aside time for 500 words. You’ll be thrilled as the word count grows week by week.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must leave you. I have my daily target to meet.
Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions, covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.
Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.
Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.
The World Cup finished last night, and as Gary Lineker once said, “The Germans won.”
In case you think that’s an anti-German sentiment (from me, not Mr Lineker) forget it. I’m English, I support England, but I’m also a realist. We’re crap and Germany were the best organised, most disciplined team in the tournament. Congratulations to them.
But it did remind me of one of my long cherished ambitions: to become a footballer.
As ambitions go, it didn’t stay with me long. Without my glasses the world is a perpetual fog, and you can imagine what kind of footballer I’d make. I couldn’t see from one end of a snooker table to the other, never mind a football field.
Oddly enough, there was a post from good friend Seumas Gallacher this morning on his five-minute career as a fisherman, and that, too reminded me of long-forgotten, glorious plans, some of which lasted a good deal less than Seumas’s angling work. Ideas like…
Me: I wanna be a pop star.
Teacher: Can you play an instrument?
Me: No, sir.
Teacher: Can you sing?
Me: No, sir.
Teacher: Can you dance?
Me: No, sir.
Teacher: Try lorry driving instead.
Dreams of glory shattered… and I was only 15 years old.
Lacking a guest post, you’re gonna have to put up with me for this Wednesday, and I’m in rant mode. My irritation is not directed at publishers, politicians or TV, but at other writers. Which other writers? Well, quite a lot of ’em, TBH.
I see some complaining that suchabody can barely write his own name, so what’s he doing writing a novel? Or, if whatsherface hadn’t appeared on Strictly Come Celebrity Ice Dancing she wouldn’t have got that book published.
When I was a teenager, I had this crackpot idea that I would become a pop star. Everyone was doing it in the sixties, so why shouldn’t I? The mere fact that I couldn’t sing and couldn’t play a musical instrument was irrelevant. Come hell or high water, I would be a pop sensation.
Leaving aside the idiocy of youth, just suppose I had managed it, where would I be today? A has-been pop idol writing novels, perhaps? And would I be shy about using my former glory to publicise those novels? I would not. I’d insist upon it. Wouldn’t you? Of course you would.
And similarly, if you had a string of hit novels behind you, would you be shy about having your name in larger print than the title of your next book? You would not.
Get used to it. No amount of screaming that some of these people couldn’t write a Christmas card, never mind a book, or that they’re using their name to generate income, will change the situation. If you were in their position, what would you do?
If you’re serious about putting yourself and your work out there, stop whining about celebrities using unfair advantage, or long-standing successes using their leverage. Instead, start thinking about what you can do with your masterpiece.
I work with a small publisher, Crooked Cat Books, who have a number of authors on their books, all of whom approach the marketing of their work in a different way. Some can be found signing copies in local bookshops, others engage with specific book sites like Authorsden, there are others using Facebook and Twitter. Like me they’re concerned with their own works and generally raising the profile of Crooked Cat.
And I’ve never heard one of them complain, “It’s not fair. Stephen King and JK Rowling sell way more books than me. Just because they’re famous.”
The Beatles first foray into movies and it was excellent… in 1964. Last night it was cringeworthy. It demonstrated that they were fine, revolutionary musicians and composers in their day, but they were not actors.
There was a clutch of these films during the mid-sixties. HDN was followed by Help in which the acting had improved marginally, the appalling Ferry Cross the Mersey, and the slightly better Catch Us If You Can. The latter starred the Dave Clark Five and Clark had been a stuntman, which made him slightly more comfortable in front of the cameras.
Naturally, these movies were not designed a Cannes FF fodder. They were more like marketing efforts, aimed at the already astronomical sales of the musicians.
However, I digress. My Monday moan is more to do with TV than sixties music movies. Her Indoors paid the thick end of £800 for our TV set and it sits in the corner doing nothing most of the time. And when you do want it to do something, what do you get?
Having suffered HDN, last night, I turn to today’s TV and it is so bleak it reminds me of every post-apocalyptic book I’ve ever read. Back when HDN first hit the cinema we had only two channels here in Great Britain, but at least they carried entertainment. Now we have hundreds, and I cannot see one single programme worth watching.
Prize of the night must surely go to ITV4 who are showing Alias Smith & Jones. This series ran from 1971-1973 and it was never particularly good then. What the hell possessed the people at ITV to re-run it?
I know. It was cheap.
If that’s the best anyone can offer, it may be time to check on the birth rate to see if it’s going up.
All I can say is, I’ll be exercising my favourite switch tonight. It’s called ‘ON/OFF’ and there are no prizes for guessing which option I’m taking.
I’m rather chuffed today. My guest is none other than Lesley Cookman, creator of one of my favourite amateur sleuths, Libby Sarjeant.
A mutual friend – Maureen Vincent-Northam if you must know – recommended Libby to me a few years ago and I became an instant fan (even if I am slow to read them). When Lesley asked if she could put a guest post on my blog, I leapt at the chance.
Here, Lesley talks about the crossover between her career as an actress and as a whodunit writer.
Which was one of the things David suggested I write about – acting, and how it affects my books. There are many of us now in the writing profession who used to be in – loosely – the acting profession. Or were, at least, trained for it. In fact, both my main protagonists are former actors – or actresses, as I still prefer to say, and a lot of the action in the books hovers around the Oast Theatre of which my Libby and her partner, Ben, are directors. As in board, not play directors, although Libby also does that. I have a strong connection with my local theatre and was, for years, on the management committee. I wrote, directed and performed in pantomimes for it, pantomimes which went on to be published and are now performed all over the country every year, which pays for my holidays! I was even commissioned to write a book on “How To Write A Pantomime”, which is now in its third edition.
Something else which helps with writing novels is the ability to write dialogue. In a script, the spoken word is all you have to demonstrate emotion of any kind. Unless the line very obviously dictates the way it is said, it’s useless. You can give a bracketed stage direction, eg (ironically, angrily) but the actor is not going to turn to the audience and announce that he is saying this angrily. The author must have written it completely unambiguously. Punctuation is key, here. A misplaced comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence, something which can be a good plot point in a crime novel! This ability makes for faster paced, natural sounding novels.
I don’t know how much acting affects the way I see my novels as they unfold – I suspect most writers see the scenes pictorially as they are rolling out in front of them. I know all my locations intimately, and even when it’s a new one, I can see it in my head, which helps in avoiding mishaps. I will never walk through a table because I’ve forgotten I put it there, because I can see it.
Lastly, I suppose there’s the sense of the dramatic. I’ve acted in everything from Ibsen to Ayckbourn, Dickens to Alan Bennett, and I appreciate timing, not just in comedy, but in drama. I’ve been called upon to go mad on stage – twice – which the children found very uncomfortable to watch, I’ve had to do a partial strip (Yes, really. I frightened the horses.) and I’ve appeared as a magician’s assistant, tights and all. You do all that, and you don’t half appreciate drama…
Now, I write books about it and do the occasional guest appearance to keep my hand in. This year I’m mentoring a new pantomime director, after having played his mother in last year’s panto. I’m a nuturing sort of soul, really.
No, I don’t mean Flatcap has got on a plane and cleared off to Brazil for the World Cup. According to the lad, he can’t afford it. Then again, to hear him talk, he can’t afford the bus fare to Manchester.
It’s Monday (again) the last day of June (again) the garden needs mowing (again) and being the end of a quarter, I have to spend time bringing my records up to date, and I’ve learned the Flatcap is outpacing me. It’s not good enough. He’s always moaning about his knees, so how can he be ahead of me?
But it’s the truth. As I write, two of his three volumes sit ahead of all the STAC Mysteries bar one (Death in Distribution). Naturally, I asked why, and the answer doesn’t surprise me. People need to laugh and if nothing else, Flatcap makes ’em laugh.
If you follow the news, in whatever form, you’ll know that the world is its usual filthy mess. Wars here, environmental disasters here, crime at an all-time high or low (depending on how you read the statistics) crap football teams in England (and Spain) and celebrities doing their usual OTT stuff to prove that they’re either better or (to be truly honest) more idiotic than their peers.
We need a safety valve for that never-ending depression, and people like Flatcap provide it. People who are completely without bias, totally irreverent, people who are prepared to take the piss out of almost anything and everything.
Note, for example, his take on National Orgasm Day “If only I’d known”. Or his summary of the latest theory on the Rendlesham UFO of 1980. “What everyone imagined was a spacecraft from the Andromeda Galaxy was nothing more sinister than a truckload of stolen horse shit going up in star-spangled flames.”
Those politicians so fond of their own voices may try to persuade you that what the world needs is more people like them; people with the courage to do what is needed, even if it does mean they’re (reluctantly) making a fortune from it. Personally, I think the world needs more people like Flatcap.
Inasmuch as I’m known at all, it’s probably for the STAC Mysteries, that series of eleven cosy whodunits which has proved so popular over the last two years.
But that’s not how it was supposed to be.
Slightly less violent, but in my view, more compelling is Voices.
And yet, it sells poorly. Perhaps because I’m so busy with STAC, that I rarely get around to publicising it. It’s also difficult to categorise. It’s currently banded under metaphysical sci-fi, but I think it may be slightly more psychological horror. It has only five reviews, and yet all are 5-star, and, of course, I never solicit reviews, so you can be sure they are genuine.
Here are some of the things the reviewers said.
This is real horror at its best, not because it’s full of blood and gore (there’s plenty) but because you really believe it could be happening.
The apparitions were brilliantly written too – they were scary enough that I was looking under my bed before I got into it
Strong in imagery and filled with believable characters you can really root for. It moves along at a good pace to deliver a powerful ending that will not only leave you feeling incredibly satisfied, it will also leave you wanting more
‘Voices’ keeps you guessing and has a terrific pay-off. David Robinson isn’t afraid to use slipstream techniques or flashbacks to uncover exposition bit by bit
This unusual tale has a gripping plot and believable characters. Highly recommended.
As I write, Voices sits at #25 in its genre chart, and it appears in no less than three such charts.
Here’s an excerpt which I hope will allow you to judge for yourselves.
It’s early in the tale. Chris is in the refectory, queuing for lunch, when he notices one of his students behaving suspiciously. Then the terrifying truth dawns on him.
I opened my mouth to shout a warning. The sweep hand on the clock above the service counter reached the top of the hour. The minute hand moved one last time to register 12:45. There was a flash of light and an almighty explosion.
A ball of flame expanded in all directions. With it came the noise of screams, of glass shattering as the windows disappeared, followed by an awful rending of metal. The triple extractors fell from their mountings and crashed to the tables below where they exploded into a thousand pieces. One of the blades embedded itself in the back of Grey Pinstripe’s head. He fell, one hand clawing at the back of his neck. I watched the light go out in his eyes.
At the same time, a wall of superheated air hit my lungs. The blast threw me back, slamming me into the vending machines. Something bloody came my way. I had time to register it as the head of one of the chatterers before I ducked. It struck me a glancing blow on the forehead and my knees buckled.
Dizziness swimming around me, I took in the scene of carnage. Azi and the window where he was perched were gone. The emergency exit had been blown open and at least two students were hurled through it. Pauline was unconscious, one arm laying several feet from the rest of her. In his pram, the baby had a large piece of metal projecting from his chest. Steve Jessop had been thrown towards the service counter, where he lay unconscious, blood streaming from numerous cuts on his face. Emma stared down at a large piece of extractor fan filling the valley between her breasts. As I watched, she keeled over and lay still. Purse Woman lay strewn across Steve’s midriff, her legs slashed to ribbons. Her face was turned my way, but her eyes focussed on the bloody mess that had been Grey Pinstripe’s head.
There was nothing left of the students or the table where Richmond had left his bag. The cleaner’s lower legs were still on the floor. They were several feet apart and the rest of her had been torn from them. All around the central blast area lay the charred remains of what had been people a few moments ago.
Glancing to my left, I could see a counter hand spread-eagled across the hobs, her clothing and hair on fire. I prayed she was already dead. At the staff tables, several were already beyond help; one of the survivors was trying to revive the woman next to him.
Smoke and fumes filled my lungs, I tasted the coppery essence of blood on my lips, my head hurt front and back. I ran a hand across my face. It came away covered in blood. I don’t know whether it was mine or someone else’s.
It seemed as if time had come to standstill. I felt as if I was staring at this horror for minutes, but it was probably less than two seconds.
As the dazed survivors came to their senses, they ran, some making for the emergency exit, the rest, from this side of the room, rushing for the double doors to my right, and the safety of reception beyond them.
The explosion had melted the ceiling tiles and caused a brief flare; enough to kick in what was left of the sprinkler system. Rain poured on the bloodied and charred floor tiles, turning them into a gooey, slippery mess of blood, flesh and water. At the head of the panicked crowd, Marcia Reardon, a tutor from the Languages Department, slipped and went down. The mob trampled her. I saw her tongue loll out before she disappeared under the thundering feet.
I flattened myself to the vending machine as the crowd massed towards the door. A young girl was forced into the corner. She screamed as the herd crushed in on her and pressed her flat against the wall. Then her screams stopped and her eyes faded.
They crushed me too, forcing me back against the unyielding machinery. They were moving to the right. I fought my way to the left, my legs turning to jelly, strength wilting. The tiniest of gaps opened around me and I began to go down.
And many other e-book retailers.
It is also available in paperback by searching for the ISBN: 978-1908910424