So you think you can write a book…

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Big deal – so what?

If you put your mind to it, anyone can. What you have to ask yourself is whether or not more than a dozen people will actually want to read it? Reality dictates that invariably the answer will be probably not. So what do you as a writer seriously need to consider before writing word one?

Firstly If writing is merely a hobby with you, read no further… Secondly, find out which of the genres is currently popular? Thirdly, is it the genre for you, and more to the point, can you write in it? Fourthly and most important of all, is your standard of writing of sufficient quality? In other words does it meet acceptable standards? A lot of what is currently on offer fail miserably when it comes to the fourth in my list. I mentioned this in today’s previous post when I said that Amazon’s virtual book shelves are littered with millions of books no one other than the author’s family and friends want to read.

Despite its subject, not to mention the appallingly bad way in which it was written, the glaring example of what is considered to be a page turner these days is still E.L James’ first novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Purely from a literary point of view it was a poorly edited absolute shocker. Yet millions of people across the world bought, read and praised it, which just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste. Hollywood saw it as a money maker and turned it into a movie. Despite receiving generally unfavorable reviews, it was an immediate box office success, breaking numerous records and earning over US$571 million worldwide. What does this say about the general public’s literary taste? Not very much! To be frank they wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them in the backside! I’ll tell you what it says about today’s crop of books – when it comes to what constitutes a page turner, the answer is entirely in the lap of the gods!

So what can we deduce from the above example? That when considering what the reading public believe is a book worthy of their time, there are no guarantees. All any of us can hope to do is write our hearts out, even though the number of writers who can honestly say that they can make a living from participating in our calling are few and far between.

While your friends may love what you have written, unless at the very least it sells multiples of a hundred thousand copies, it is just another instantly forgettable book. I’m sorry but there it is. As fiction writer’s we’re lucky if one of our titles makes the grade.

Should all I have just said put you off wanting to write? Absolutely not. Your safe until you take a deep breath and decide to publish. By publish I’m not talking about posting a short story on your blog. Instead I’m talking about taking the deliberate step to expose your work to often cruel, not to say downright hostile criticism. Sadly the latter is the only gauge you have to let you know if you have what it takes to be a full time writer? Participating in writing workshops or reading groups is no indicator as to whether or not you are made of stern stuff. In both cases from the driven writer’s point of view participation in either is a waste of time. Take it from me, when I say that our calling is not for the faint hearted or the starry-eyed dreamer or the get rich quick fraternity. It is not to be entered into lightly. Why? Because it is one of the harshest working environments known to man.

PS – one last thought, many of today’s editors and small press publishers started out as starry-eyed writers who quit when the going got tough, unable to handle all the flack that inevitably comes our way when we publish. I’ve said the following on more than one occasion in the past – to be a writer you need the hide of a rhinoceros and a determination to succeed despite the critics…

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I’m sorry but it can’t be helped…

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To be absolutely honest with you, the enthusiasm I initially had to write the sequel to the sequel of Race Against Time has evaporated to nothing. Do I really want to resurrect the characters one more time? Not really. I’m sorry but my heart isn’t in it. If that disappoints the half dozen of you that wanted me to write it, I can only repeat once again that I’m sorry. The truth is that unless I am one hundred percent enthused, which I have to admit, I’m not – I think you get the picture. I’m not prepared to write a ho hum story. Amazon’s virtual shelves are chock full of them.

So what do I want to do? Well I’ll continue to read and research until I find a story that I simply must write. Anyone can crank out a story. But as we all know very few are page turners. Instead the majority fall into the ‘once read instantly forgotten’ category.

My next novel, novella – whatever it may wind up as, must be an absolute page turner just as Race Against Time in its original incarnation as The Seventh Age was. In its time it sold just over a quarter of a million copies back in 2012/13. If as a writer you are being truthful to yourself, let alone your readers, once you have had a modicum of success like that, all you want is to repeat the experience.

Once again I apologise but the sequel to the sequel simply won’t be happening…

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Enemy at the Gates

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Every now and then a film stands out from the crowd. One in particular is the 2001 production of Enemy at the Gates, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire (1981), The name of the Rose (1986), The Lover (1991) and Seven Years in Tibet (1997). It concerns Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev the top Russian sniper serving during the bloody battle for Stalingrad, and his protracted duel with the german master sniper Major Erwin König, who was sent by Hitler with express orders to kill him.

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Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev

Born: 23 March 1915, Yeleninka, Russia
Died: 15 December 1991, Kiev, Ukraine

 

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      Major Erwin König

Born ….

   Died 1942

Since there is no extant record of König it is highly possible that the Wermacht was ordered to destroy all records concerning him after learning of his death at the hands of Zaytsev.

The defeat of the German forces by the Red Army in the Battle of Stalingrad was a major blow to German morale and according to many historians, was the beginning of the end of the Third Reich. This appears to be one possible motive for destroying König’s record, as his death at the hands of what Hitler referred to as a “sub-human” would add to the German defeat at Stalingrad.

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The following extract is taken from the Wikipedia article about the film. You will note there is one glaring error which I have corrected.

Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate the city’s defences and demands ideas to improve morale. Political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), now a senior lieutenant in the propoganda section of the Red Army, suggests that the people need figures to idolise and give them hope, and publishes tales of Vasily’s exploits in the army’s newspaper that paint him as a national hero and propaganda icon. Vasily is transferred to the sniper division, and he and Danilov become friends. They also both become romantically interested in Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), a citizen of Stalingrad.

(Partially incorrect! In fact Chernova was a Russian-American who went to Belarus to get her grandparents out of Russia. When she reached Belarus, the Germans had already killed them).

Later on she did become a private in the Stalingrad militia. In the film Danilov has her transferred to an intelligence unit away from the battlefield.

With the Soviet snipers taking an increasing toll on the German forces, Major Erwin König (Ed Harris) is deployed to Stalingrad to take out Vasily and thus crush Soviet morale. A renowned marksman and head of the German Army sniper school at Zossen, he lures Vasily into a trap and kills two of his fellow snipers, but Vasily manages to escape. When the Red Army command learns of König’s mission, they dispatch König’s former student Koulikov (Ron Perlman) to help Vasily kill him. König however, outmaneuvers Koulikov and kills him with a very skillful shot, shaking Vasily’s spirits considerably. Khrushchev pressures Danilov to bring the sniper standoff to a conclusion.

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If you do not like war films, I urge you to think again. Enemy at the Gates is more than the usual run of the mill (yawn worthy) product designed to glorify war.

Instead it explores the human side of a particularly savage conflict. The fact that it is about a young russian hero is the real reason why this movie was not made by Hollywood. For it to be otherwise would prove that not every American believes that Russia and its citizens are the much maligned enemies that their paranoid politicians would have their allies and the rest of world believe…

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Kindred Spirits

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The jobbing actor remembered for all time as a British spy chief

As jobbing writers we can never rely on our work to feed us. So we must have an alternative source of income. In other words, a day job. Some like myself are retired from the workforce. Therefore I am able to fully concentrate on my writing, be it another novel, or in this instance writing blog posts. Do I receive large amounts of money for all my hard work? No! Thank goodness for my small state pension…

When it comes to jobbing actors, they are those familiar faces we all recognise, even if we cannot immediately recall their names, that appear in movies, on stage, and in radio or television programs from time to time. Like us they love what they do despite being poorly paid. Like us they must still pay the bills. So like us they also need an alternative income. To keep the wolf from the door, many of them collect unemployment benefit between acting jobs.2c002d5b3d0959c7d1be525b87821f38

The British jobbing actor usually cast as the quintessential villain

Like us they would love to break into the big time. But in their business, unless you are a member of an acting dynasty like the Fox family, or perhaps the Redgraves, because of their looks the jobbing actor will only ever be considered for supporting roles, seldom the lead (see the above examples – Robert Brown and Ray Winstone). In other words once seen by casting directors, they are typecast forevermore, destined to remain a jobbing actor until the day they die with no substantial regular monthly income to rely upon.

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Whereas, can you ever imagine the likes of Bill Nighy (pictured above) in a supporting role as a spymaster or a villain? Just look at him! Quite simply his face dictates that he is not suitable for bit parts, thank you very much! He is much more likely to be successfully cast as a cad, bounder, lover or perhaps a dithering academic, whether on stage, screen, radio or television. Unlike the other two, for him the list is seemingly endless.

Why do I say kindred spirits? Think about it for a moment. We’re both dependant on fate. As writers we are responsible for coming up with the right set of words. Once strung together, if they prove acceptable as a new work of fiction worthy of adaptation into a screen, television, radio or stage play, the jobbing actor interprets them for the viewing and listening  audiences. In both cases we work our backsides off for very little gain. In both cases we are what being actors and writers is all about – hard graft!

Whether either discipline realises it or not, we are connected to one another. I would go further – in both camps, the notion that what I say is a fact, simply does not arise in polite conversation! It should…

So the next time you think you must be mad to want to write, know that you aren’t alone in your addiction. There are quite literally millions of jobbing writers like you and I. Equally, there are thousands of jobbing actors like Ray and Robert too, particularly in stage plays and on television and radio. Both of our occupations are addictive and often fraught with disappointments.

Not to worry, even though both disciplines are to say the least, financially precarious – occasionally the sun does actually shine on one or two of us. I’m patiently waiting for when its my turn…

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Criticism versus Reviews

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What any writer dreads the most are attacks by members of the public, often with an axe to grind…

In days gone by every writer knew that the only individuals who offered opinions about their work were journalists working for leading newspapers, in the guise of literary critics. Back then they encapsulated the essence of a new work of fiction in one line of carefully chosen words taken from the text in question. Never once did their newspaper’s editor allow them to speak harshly against a given work. Instead, they chose to beguile future readers with the use of a single sentence from the book in question as an enticement like the following:

“A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

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Sadly those days are no more. Today, every reader has the freedom to criticise by writing whatever they believe is a review, knowing that they can get away with blue murder, then posting it on book sites such as Amazon. Most are not true reviews at all. Instead what you will see are endless examples of critiques, or far worse! The vast majority believe it is their god given right to tear apart any and every book, in particular ebooks by both traditional and indie authors.

It isn’t! All you are doing is showing your ignorance to the world at large. Some, not all, make it their business to harangue the author of the work they have just written about. A small number will insist that they could have made a far better job of writing the story!

To all of them I ask this – how many of them have ever written anything longer than their own signature I wonder? Have any of them ever had a book published? How would they feel if the boot was on the other foot? Would they feel outraged about the product of all their hard work being considered rubbish by hateful individuals? These people who go on the offensive are too cowardly to use their own name, preferring instead to remain anonymous by hiding behind a pseudonym.

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Are Amazon’s published authors being shafted?

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From their published author’s point of view the answer has to be yes!!!

While the realists among our ranks (myself included) know we will never gain fame and fortune despite our best efforts, when you become a published author you would be forgiven for thinking that once your book(s) has been accepted and published that you are entitled to receive royalties for each copy of your book sold.

That used to be the case with Amazon until they decided to change the rules to save themselves having to honour their side of the agreement in favour of the far cheaper alternative from their point of view – Kindle Edition Normalized Pages!

While the idea of being able to read as many books as you can each month for very little outlay (Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited) may appeal to the avid reader, do any of them for one moment bother to ask themselves whether or not the authors of those books are being provided with royalties for each copy of their book(s) sold by Amazon? I seriously doubt it!

While its true that we do receive a pittance in the form of a few cents for every page read, we do not receive royalties for books sold under the Kindle Unlimited program! In essence what we are subjected to thanks to our books being advertised in Kindle Unlimited is nothing short of blatant exploitation by Amazon!

While we all reluctantly give away a few free copies while promoting a work, regarding it as a necessary evil, what Amazon is doing is outrageous! In essence they deliberately abandoned paying royalties to each author in favour of KU and their cheap skate pay per page read scheme. Did it increase the number of copies bought? No! Nor does the giving away of hundreds of copies in a free promotion, despite what some pro Amazon pundits may say!

As a published author I will never ever obtain a copy of anyone’s book using KU. To do so would be to deprive my fellow published authors of the monetary acknowledgement for their literary endeavours – in other words, their royalty payment. As readers I strongly urge you to consider doing the right thing as well. Buy your copy!

I know there are many tight-fisted individuals who would argue that by getting books using KU they save money, and that in effect they are buying their copy.They could not be more in error if they tried! So the next time you chose a book to read consider paying for it.

DO NOT HIT THE BIG YELLOW ‘READ FOR £0.00’ BUTTON!!!

Before you ask – yes I do have some free copies of ebooks. In total they number less than eight, each one sent to me by their author as a complimentary copy…

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Broken Storylines in films

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A few days ago I posed a question on my Facebook Timeline: Why is it that so many of the films on offer these days are so disjointed? Surely I’m not the only one who has noticed the glaring gaps in the storylines – or am I?

What I was talking about, which no one commenting actually picked up on is the fact that when it comes to making a film from a book, if the majority of film goers haven’t read the book before hand, they are highly unlikely to wonder why those responsible for what they are looking at on the silver screen, nearly always select specific elements of the original written work instead of adapting the story in its entirety. The only people who would pick up on the problem are usually writers like you and I. The vast majority really couldn’t give a damn!

Why does the film industry do that? Because when you/we hand over the film rights to your/our book(s) we’re giving them carte blanche to do whatever they like!

As writers we all need to deliver a complete storyline. To do anything less is unacceptable. The average reader certainly won’t appreciate a storyline full of holes! Yet screen writers, directors and producers like to kid themselves that they can get away with cutting often key elements to a story in favour of inserting something that you the author did not include in the book. I would argue that in effect what they are doing is depriving the viewer of experiencing the story the way the author intended!

Very few directors are strong enough to say no to those who scream “cut that scene!” usually for reasons of so-called morality. To give you a for instance think about the trouble Alfred Hitchcock had with his film based on Robert Bloch’s book Psycho, when the sexually repressed US censorship board at the time refused to issue it with its certificate allowing it to be shown in US cinemas saying the shower scene showing Janet Leigh’s naked calf, shoulder, face, neck and upper back, prior to being brutally murdered, was somehow indecent. What was over the top was seeing her being subjected to a frenzied knife attack. I still can’t watch the scene for that very reason. Take a look for yourselves before you read on…

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Let me be clear – I’m not talking about a film maker merely expressing interest in the option to buy here which hardly if ever leads to them going any further. I’m talking about someone in the world of film actually handing over cold hard cash for the right to turn your book into the next screen hit.

Be warned, once bought you have no say in what they do with it. Unless you are as strong-willed and high profile enough like J.K. Rowling, who refuses to be dictated to by moviedom’s many idiots.

One of the few directors to almost include everything from a book, or in this case books, was New Zealand’s Peter Jackson when he gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However he did later decide to expand Tolkien’s extremely short novel The Hobbit into three separate films by adding a lot of extra material that simply isn’t in the book.

So – once film rights have been bought, directors can get away with anything. Before the idea of selling the film rights to your book blinds you, think about the fact that you will lose control over the way your book is being portrayed on the silver screen…

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