Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Writers as Readers

Most writers are also avid readers, and we all tend to write in the genres we love to read. There are a number of clear advantages for reading widely in the genre you are writing and I’ve outlines a few of these below:

1. Understanding the market. It is good to get a feel for what is selling and what your potential audience enjoys reading. This will give you confidence that you are on the right track.

2. Knowing what’s gone before. If you’ve read widely in a genre you’re far less likely to end up rehashing something that came out ten or twenty years before. You will have a better sense of what makes your own work unique, as well as being able to recognise your influences.

3. Getting the tone and pace right. For children’s books this is particularly important, the complexity of language required differs depending on the age of your reader, but for all genres it is important to have an idea of how the books are paced and structured. If there are particular conventions then it’s a good idea to adhere to them as far as possible.

4. Studying the craft. It is always useful to see how other authors handle different aspects of the craft. How they refine their descriptions, how they bring in the back story etc. There is always something to be learned.

5. Market positioning. This is useful for when you come to pitch your book – which recent titles would it sit next to on the bookshop shelves? Which books would share a common readership with your own?

So now that I’m writing thrillers I’ve been reading thrillers, for all the reasons outlined above. Some I’ve really enjoyed. Others not so much. I’ll shortly be posting a few reviews, so watch this space.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Guest: Children's Author Cherry Cobb

Today's guest is Cherry Cobb. Her debut children's novel, Will's War, has just been published by Candy Jar.

Will is an ordinary boy who likes to build Lego models, and play with his dog Rollo. But after a stupid row with his mum he ends up at his grandad’s house, where he discovers an old air raid shelter. Will steps inside to investigate, but when he comes out he is not in his grandad’s garden but in Second World War London.
How will he get back?

Hello Cherry, Welcome to the Scribbling Sea Serpent and congratulations on publication of your debut children's novel, Wills War. 

It’s lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to talk about my book.

To start, please tell us a bit about your new book.

Will is an 11 year old boy who finds an air raid shelter at the bottom of his granddad’s garden, he goes inside to investigate and is transported to WWII London in the middle of an air raid. His mission is to get back home, but before he can he finds himself evacuated to the country.

Tell us a bit more about the abandoned village that inspired Will’s story.

I have always been interested in WW2 and living close to Dorset I was able to visit Tyneham Village. It is a ghost village abandoned in 1943 during the Second World War. The church and the schoolroom are still standing. It feels like the place time forgot, a great place for imagination and inspiration. I have also been to various museums where you can go into an Anderson shelter. Where families spent many hours together often during the night. You get a feeling of just how hard life was during the war. Both places inspired me to put pen to paper, I just started thinking What if?

Being transported back in time must have been quite a shock. Can you give us some examples of the things Will found it hardest to relate to?

There was lots of things Will found difficult, from the devastation in the streets to the blackouts and having to take a gas mask everywhere. He also hated the air raids and was amazed to find that people could sleep through them. Will was also astonished by the lack of common appliances in homes such as a toaster or a television.

Setting a story during WW2 must have involved a lot of research. What was the most unusual or surprising thing you discovered? 

I really enjoyed the research and learnt a lot. As a mother myself I was drawn to the information around Operation Pied Piper on the 1st of September 1939 when the Government decided to evacuate civilians from the cities. At London’s main stations a train left for the country every 9 minutes for 9 hours. In total 1 .5 million people were evacuated in 3 days.

If I suddenly found myself transported back in time into the middle of an air raid what advice would you give me? 

Well firstly to take cover as quickly as possible, and wait for the all clear. Secondly, to join in with an activity such as a singsong, to boost morale and keep fear at bay. During the raids people would play cards or other games, or read if the light was good enough. People suffered air raids for many years and had to find ways of combating boredom and anxiety on a daily basis.

What was your journey to publication like?

I bought a copy of the Children’s Writers and Artists yearbook and sent off the first three chapters and a synopsis of Will’s War to various publishers that I thought might be interested in the book. I then waited as you do, for quite some time, just as I was beginning to think I might have to send out a second round I received a reply from Candy Jar Books saying that they liked the concept and would like to see more.  That was the beginning of my journey to becoming a published author. I’m still doing the happy dance and in between pinching myself to make sure it’s real.

Will we be meeting Will again or do you have something different in the pipeline?

I have been working on a new book, but I am drawn to write another adventure for Will. Watch this space!

Thank you Cherry for answering my questions and I wish you all the best with Will's War which can be purchased from Amazon UK and from all good bookshops.

Cherry Cobb lives in Somerset with her family and two cats. As a former lecturer she appreciates the importance and value of children’s literature. She has won several poetry competitions blaming the success on her wild and vivid imagination. The idea for Will’s War came about one day when she visited a ghost village evacuated in 1943 during WWII. She is never without a notepad and pen and a head full of ideas.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Ten years of Blogging

It is now ten years since I started this blog. I initially set it up to chart my journey to publication, as well as procrastinating about other issues surrounding the world of writing. Over the years the blogging scene has changed, and I guess the nature of this blog has changed, as well as my place in the world of publishing. So it seems sensible to look at these changes in a bit more detail.

1. My publication journey

When I started this blog, back in 2008, I had a total of five short story sales to my name, with four already published and one pending. Since then this figure has risen to 20. I have also had one novel and a short story collection published as well as number of competition long-listings and short-listings culminating in me winning the Yeovil Prize in 2016. I also managed to find representation along the way.

So in ten years I would say I’ve achieved a fair bit. But the journey isn’t over. It won’t be as long as I can put pen to paper. So who knows what the next ten years will bring!

2. The nature of blogging and rise of social media

Blogging has definitely changed over the past ten years. Back at the start it was fairly new and there was a lot more interaction between bloggers; people commented on one another’s posts and connections were forged. But over the years blogging has tailed off. Many people have abandoned their blogs and those that do keep them going blog much less frequently. I certainly fall into this category.

This is probably partly due to the rise of social media. The way people connect has changed. Blogging has become tired.

3. A role for the future

So what role does a blog play these days and what is the point? Well for me this blog is my online author presence and is now set up more as a website than the simple journal it was in the beginning. The blog part is updated less regularly and I try to keep it much more writing focussed than I did in the past.

But for an author a web presence is important. I’ve received several event bookings through my contacts page. For that reason don’t expect to see this blog disappear any time soon, although I dare say it’s function will continue to evolve.

So I wonder - what will the next ten years bring?

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A Change of Direction

So far all my published work has been under the name Kate Kelly. These are my SF and weird fiction short stories, my short story collection, and of course my YA thriller Red Rock, the peak of my writing career so far.

But I’ve been reviewing my current work and I can’t help feeling that, without really thinking, I’ve taken a change of direction.

I’ve looked at the various novels written over the years and the ideas I’ve been running with recently and there are four projects which I feel have legs.

Novel 1. A thriller with a speculative twist – currently seeking representation.

Novel 2. This is the YA SF thriller I wrote after Red Rock which my publisher declined. But looking at it now I think it deserves more. So my plan is to age it up, restructure the plot and give it a major rewrite.

Novel 3. Another SF thriller that I was trying to make work as a YA novel. Only it doesn’t want to be. Rewrite and complete.

Novel 4. A thriller with a speculative twist about 20% written.

Looking at these I think I can see my ‘brand’ emerging - speculative thrillers. These are the novels I’m going to be running with. And I plan to change my by-line – ever so slightly, to reflect this.

I’ll keep you updated.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Review: The Misper by Bea Davenport.

“I knew this girl, you see. A sort of a friend. No one thought she really mattered much, but that turned out to be a mistake. Because she blew a hole through my life – and the lives of everyone I knew.”

The Misper is the new YA thriller by Bea Davenport which will be hitting the bookshelves on the 1st March this year. It is published by Conrad Press which is a fairly small publisher, and as I result I fear this book might not get the exposure it deserves.

First impressions – the cover – the cover is great! It hints at the three friends and yet you don’t see their faces – they remain a mystery – a mystery that can only be unlocked by delving into these pages.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term Misper, let me bring you up to date – it is, quite simply Police slang for a missing person. And in the first few pages it is immediately clear that this is the thrust of the story. Someone has disappeared and at first we don’t even know who – not to mention why! Police are everywhere, parents and friends distraught.

Rewind several months and we start to fill in the gaps. Anna is starting a new school, and is instantly drawn to goth girl Zoe. As their friendship develops it soon becomes clear that something is not quite right with Zoe, but before we can find out more in bounces Kerry, an awkward geek of a girl who nobody really likes. Anna feels both sorry for her but at the same time that she is driving a wedge between her and Zoe. They both wish Kerry would go away and leave them alone.

Then Zoe starts dabbling in witchcraft and things take a more sinister turn.

This is a really gripping book. From almost the first page I was embroiled in Anna’s world and the pace and intrigue never lets up. The scary parts are really scary, the tense parts really tense, and I can tell you I won’t be snooping round any graveyards anytime soon.

But what I loved the most was the character of Anna. I really felt I could relate to her, almost as if there was a bit of me in her. I think if I was in her shoes I would have done exactly the same…

I know this is a book aimed at the teenage market, but I really enjoyed reading it too. In fact I read it in one sitting before I realised what was happening – and I’d only meant to read the first chapter!

It’s easy for a book published by a small press to miss out on the recognition it deserves, so all I can say is buy a copy, buy your friend a copy, ask your library to stock it, leave a review. This is a book that deserves to be noticed. Let’s make that happen!

Bea Davenport's Website

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Enter the Aftermath

Enter the Aftermath, a collection of post-apocalyptic fiction from TANSTAAFL Press has just been released. This is the second in the ‘Enter the…’ series of anthologies and contains my Cli-Fi short story “A Time of Dying”.

The first in the series, Enter the Apocalypse, was published last year and explores a range of possible apocalypses that might befall mankind. In Enter the Aftermath the stories explore the height of these apocalypses and in the third, to be released later this year, Enter the Rebirth will look at how the world might find a new equilibrium.

Enter the Aftermath is available in both print and kindle formats from Amazon US and Amazon UK. So if you like your fiction apocalyptic why not head over and buy yourself a copy. And in the meantime here is a little extract to whet your appetite….

“From here I had a better view. It was definitely a settlement up ahead. A cluster of houses that must once have been a village or small town. Only the walls remained, the roofs caved in, either by the weight of the sand as the shifting dunes had smothered them, or by the bombs that came before. Either way, the dune field, running before the wind, was clearing away, leaving the ruins exposed. For a while at least, until the next set of dunes reached this spot. 
Places like this were always good for scavenging. The last place we’d found ammunition and dried rations, out of date but still usable. This place looked promising. 
But someone had got here first.” 
Buy Enter the Aftermath at:

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Creating a Sense of Place: Guest Post by Kathy Shuker.

Today my special guest is Kathy Shuker, a Devon based author who writes intriguing mysteries with an evocative sense of place. Welcome to the Scribbling SeaSerpent, Kathy.

I’ve been writing novels now for around fifteen years. Most of the early ones never saw the light of day (fortunately) but three have been published and many readers have commented on their strong sense of place. It’s been a long learning curve and here I’ll try to share what I’ve learnt and how I approach the setting for a story - and why I think it’s important.

Writing a novel, I quickly found out, involves endless decision-making - there are so many different ways to tell a story. If you’re indecisive like me, it can slow you down; you become literally spoilt by the choice. And it’s all too easy to get wrapped up thinking of exciting plot details or complex characters and neglect the all-important background information. Along with the time period, the setting is fundamental to the atmosphere of the work. For example, if you want to tell a story that’s hard and fast and clean-edged, brisk with people and the insistent thrust of modern life, you would probably set it in a big city. If you want a moodier story with a haunting backdrop, you might choose something rural and remote. Again, there are many options. Whatever you choose, the setting is like another character in the story, something that has an essence of its own and, if it’s to play its full part, needs to be respected as such.

I write mysteries which are character-driven, stories that revolve around small communities, families with untold back stories, groups of old friends whose relationships have grown or stretched out of shape or have even broken down. I feel they suit intimate and sparsely populated settings. There’s time for the characters to interact; there’s space for the unusual, the surprising, the unspoken, all of which add to the mystery. I have spent most of my adult life living in rural areas so my choice of settings is not surprising: I know how small communities work; I breathe more easily in the countryside. And I think that’s an important factor in choosing a setting for a novel: you need to know and understand where the story takes place. It’s going to be a long writing journey and that setting is going to hold it all together. As the story unfolds, it will keep throwing questions at you - points of detail which, if you get them right, can help to make the story credible. If you get them wrong, the reader may pick up on the inconsistencies and be pulled out of the story.

So, what do you need to know about this place you have created? I use real settings but subtly alter them to suit my story and I use fictional names. Wherever you choose to set the book, you need to research it as you would the other characters. You may not use all that information but you need to know it. Firstly, you need to know what the place looks like - how it’s laid out; what the architecture is like; what the buildings are made of. If it’s rural, you should find out the species of trees and flowers that grow in the area. Is it barren or fertile? What is the climate like? And you may need to know the times of sunrise and sunset. I always keep a diary to hand for that. And, since a previous book and the one I’m currently working on are both set by the sea in the UK, I have to know the tide times for the period I’m writing about too. Though you don’t have to live in the place the book is set, it does help if you have at least visited it. A lot of really useful information can be found in books and on the internet but there’s no substitute for first-hand experience.  My second novel is set in Provence. I’d been lucky enough to have visited the area several times before writing it which enabled me to remember the piercing brightness of the sunshine, the oppressiveness of the mid-summer heat and the way storms can develop and pass quickly leaving the ground suddenly washed and sparkling again. Information like this can give the story more depth and life.

But looks aren’t everything. It’s important to describe sounds too, and smells - very emotive - and the feel of something to the touch. Every little nudge of information can help to produce a more rounded and three-dimensional image. And do it slowly. As a reader, I know how easy it is to switch off if too much information is presented in one go. When I’m writing, I give a brief overall description initially then drop more crumbs of detail in as I go along. Sometimes a single adjective, well-placed, can be more effective than a whole paragraph. And don’t forget to leave some leeway for the reader’s imagination; that’s part of the pleasure of reading. ‘Less is more’ is a mantra I often say to myself!

Above all I think you should enjoy your setting, have fun with it, inhabit it for the duration. If you can believe in it yourself, your readers will too.

Kathy trained as a physiotherapist but a back injury forced her to change career. She studied design and worked as a freelance artist, painting in oils and watercolours, exhibiting and teaching, before starting to write. She now writes full-time. As well as a continued love of reading, Kathy is a keen amateur musician, singing in a local choir and playing guitar, piano and fiddle. Art, the natural world and conservation are also particular interests. She lives with her husband in Devon, UK.

Kathy’s books are available in digital and print format on multiple platforms.

Kathy's Wesite
Kathy's Amazon Page
Kathy's Facebook Page