Sunday 26 February 2017

Competitive Writing

Now I'm not talking about lining up ten writers in front of ten desks and setting them a time limit to write a competition piece but then again....

Once you start looking there are a lot of competitions out there for writers. Short stories, flash fiction, novellas, novels, plays and scripts on every subject imaginable. The question is should you write competitively or should you try to fit your existing pieces to the competition?

Often I will see a competition that I think I might have a pre-written piece for only to find that the closing date was last week or that the required word count is either half what I have or double.  It's another huge mountain to try and climb but I think competitions can be a great motivator especially to write new things.

I recently entered a couple - one was nothing but dialogue and the other is for a radio play. Obviously I hope to win win win but actually what I'd really like is the opportunity to see how the other entrants prepared for the comps, what they wrote and most importantly the inner thought processes of the judges.

The judging feedback I got from Pen to Print was patchy at best - in fact it sounded like they had read a completely different piece of writing!  Not that I'm desperate for heaps of criticism but sometimes it is really useful to have a decent critique otherwise how will we ever improve?

Perhaps we should propose competitive writing for the next Olympics, see who steps up to the plate. Any takers?

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Whatever you do, write a review

Apart from buying the book in the first place - the absolute best thing you can do, for any aspiring writer, is to write a review of their book.  Obviously you need to read the book as well, hopefully that goes without saying but you would be surprised.

Now, lots of people are very happy to read my book, The Gaia Effect, which is fantastic however not everyone feels confident enough to write a review.  I know it feels like you might be back at school or that you worry about upsetting the author if you say you didn't like parts of the book but seriously we'd rather have your honest opinion then no opinion at all.

Amazon can be a huge tool.... and can be extremely useful to an indie author - IF they have reviews. Most people have bought something on Amazon these days.  To write a review you search for the product in question, scroll down a little and there is a little box that says Write a customer review. Easy.

But there are stars - how do I know how many stars to give??

Right - this is my theory.

  • 5 stars means it was the best thing you've ever read, you couldn't put it down, you were desperate to know what happened next, you really enjoyed it and you'd definitely read whatever the next book is by that author.
  • 4 stars means you enjoyed reading it but there were just one or two things that niggled at you. You could put it down but you also really wanted to know what happened and you would read the next one.
  • 3 stars means it was alright.  You finished it so it wasn't awful but you took your time so it wasn't great either.  Maybe there was a character you didn't like very much or you felt the author spent too long drumming a particular point home.  Basically there was a degree of disappointment.
  • 2 stars meant it was poorly written, plot holes, hard to understand, uninteresting, definitely wouldn't read anything else by that writer.
  • 1 star meant you couldn't finish it, it was that bad.
If you have your own star ranking system, please do share in the comments below.  I'd love to know how other people rank.

OK, so you've done the difficult bit, you've find the button, clicked write a customer review and chosen your star rating.  Now all you have to do is talk about what you liked, what you didn't like. That's all.  You might say I really liked the main character, I was rooting for her to get a happy ending. Or you might write I didn't understand the bit about the aliens, were they friendly or unfriendly?  It is just an opportunity to write what you did and didn't like.  Some people write paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs, others write a single sentence.  It doesn't matter.  The important thing is that you reviewed the book. Oh and, you don't have to regurgitate the plot, it's already there in the book listing.

If you went to a named supermarket and bought something from their new range of desserts and it was so delicious, you'd tell all your friends wouldn't you?  This is the same thing.  Indie authors can't grow beyond their circle of friends and family without reviews and even if you just write 'Loved it', you could find yourself honoured as a character in the next book.  We're very grateful.

Friday 10 February 2017

Author Interview: Claire Buss by Richard Gibney

***Guest Blog Post - Ragtag giggagon***

Author of The Gaia Effect – available at Amazon – Claire Buss presents a world where the characters are protected by the “radiation beyond the wall” – and have all of their needs 
serviced, including reproduction – by an entity called “Corporation”. But when friends 
around the couple at the story’s core start to fall pregnant naturally, questions are raised
about what they are expected to believe.

It’s an intriguing title - The Gaia Effect? The Gaia principle goes that Earth is a naturally life-sustaining planet, that conditions always prevail to allow a return to a balanced ecosystem?

Yes that's right - the idea that eventually the planet will put itself back into balance. 
However in my book, the spirit of the Earth - Gaia - lends a hand.  The book is set 
200 years in the future, 150 years after the devastating radiation attacks but I can't 
tell you any more!

Aww. AWWWW. ARRRRGHHHH!!! C’mohhhhhn!
Are you agented, Claire? Did you go the self-publishing route?
I don't have an agent although I did go through the whole 
query letters and submission hoops with The Gaia Effect 
last year.  I got a lot of positive no thank-yous so I left it 
alone for a while then went back and had another editing 
pass.  I was fortunate in that the book was entered into a 
local competition and part of the prize was to have your 
book published with an Indie Publisher called 
New Generation.  I came second and so the competition 
organisers paid for the publishing.

Congrats on the contest. Wow! So you used a small indie house rather than wait around 
for the traditional publishers?
I felt that it was too good an opportunity to pass. None of the other finalists have 
had their book published yet. At least this way it's an indie author learning-curve 
for me and I can start building a back catalogue. It seems to me that agents like to 
see that you're semi-established already.  I will try the agent route again with my 
next novel - The Rose Thief.

What's The Rose Thief about?
The Rose Thief is a humorous fantasy novel. The Emperor, in his infinite wisdom, 
magically imbued his red rose with the power of love so when the Rose Thief stole 
it, he also stole love. It's up to Chief Thief Catcher Ned Spinks and his motley band 
of catchers to find out who the thief is and get the rose back before love dies forever.

Interesting stuff – sounds like the late great Sir Pratchett!
Yes, The Rose Thief is Pratchett-esque.  I have read almost everything he ever 
wrote and been a fan for nigh on twenty years.  I didn't set out to write a book in 
that genre, I just started writing and it has evolved from there.  I'm very happy 
about that. Perhaps you should sign up to my newsletter?? I'm giving away all my 
news here! 😀 This is my website - have a poke around.

I hate to break it to you but I am interviewing you for my blog! 😃 Would that be okay?
And is The Gaia Effect self-contained or is it a planned series, or is it just screaming out 
for a sequel, or what?
There is a sequel to The Gaia Effect but at the moment it lives in my head. 😃
The Gaia Effect is self-contained but there are questions and it could be sequeled 
and prequeled which is exciting.

Yes I see it on Amazon. Good work from the teaser! Great use of terminology. It's peppered
 with technology, but the story's central. What's funny is the "natural" childbirth is anything
 but in ways, right?
You found the first chapter then! Yeah I wanted to make the whole getting-a-baby 
scenario feel really really wrong in as many ways possible.

The Gaia Effect concept reminds me a bit of Wall-E, or The Island (with Ewan and Scarlett)? 
And do you consider it feasible in any sense, or is The Gaia Effect fantastical? Is it social 
critique, or laser beams and jetpacks? Hard or soft sci fi?
Not really WALL-E and sort of The Island but not clones.  It's definitely feasible and 
social critique - to be fair it's only sci fi because it's set 200 years in the future & has advanced technology. More a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel.

A streptococcal what? Stay back, everyone – Claire’s contagious! And what about advertising 
and promotion? Is finding success difficult in the glutted market?
I have been building my social media platform and learning about all the different tools available out there. I'm still trying to sort out some traditional marketing and getting 
ready for a couple of events and all of this is squeezed in around my 'day-job'! It's 
interesting to call the market glutted, I'm not saying it isn't but I still think good stories 
stand out. More people are reading, especially ebooks and reading more books was 
one of the top new year resolutions for 2017.  It's hard work but it's good fun and it’s 
always great to chat to someone about the book. You are the first person to comment 
on the scientific theory behind the book title - kudos.

[PUTS ON SPECTACLES.] Jim Lovelock’s Gaia Theory is an interesting example when it 
comes to the problem of induction in the scientific method. We cannot always leap from the 
specific to the general – if we take a soil sample from a forest and it’s irradiated, we may 
assume that the soil will be similar a few feet from where we took this sample. So scientists frequently make assumptions in leaping from the specific to the general – and the same 
can be applied loosely with the Gaia theory. Some calamity MIGHT wipe out most of the 
life on Planet Earth, and the Earth MIGHT restore itself to a balance in order for life to 
flourish again. But who’d be left to see it? Are your characters those people?
The Gaia Hypothesis is such an interesting scientific concept. I have met Lynn 
Margulis and heard her talk on the topic, she worked with Lovelock on the 
hypothesis.  It is a rather hopeful concept during these days of severe global
environmental change and I suppose the fact that I have a Bsc(Hons) Life Science 
degree might have influenced the use of some science in the book.  My characters 
are the remnants of the human race which has been sequestered in numbered cities throughout the world.  They don't have a mythology per se, all texts and information 
related to religion and deities are stored in Archive which is accessible to all 
inhabitants of City 42.

Some claim that world civilisations were quite advanced before the last Ice Age, and then 
we lost all our science and entered a Dark Age caused by a disaster such as massive 
tsunamis – which may well have been the cause of the floods, hence we have stories like 
Noah's Ark. Bearing this in mind, discuss flood myths in relation to your own book! Is there 
a similarity?
I hadn't heard that particular Noah's Ark theory but it certainly makes a lot of sense.  
I have heard the idea that we fell backwards into a Dark Age. Weren't the Mayans highly advanced?  Their civilisation seemed to stop abruptly for no apparent reason.  
Those myths are probably in Archive.

I notice Kira has brown eyes and Jed has gray eyes. You cite eye colour a little in the 
opening pages, and when it comes to selecting babies, you also use it alongside other traits 
like gender and personality. Is eye hue important? Plot-related? Something to do with 
genetics? Can we profile your characters based on their eye colour, and determine their 
behaviour? Or is it just description for the reader?
The use of eye colour is mostly description for the reader but also to highlight a 
couple of things – the fact that eye colour is a genetic marker for other health issues 
and that the eye colour of parents don't necessarily match the eye colour of the children assigned to them by Corporation.  This is because Corp try to maintain a certain 
level of genetic variety with eye, hair & skin colour regardless of parental match.

I like the punctuation of the storyline in The Gaia Effect with little ads and announcements 
about events – tell me about that.
The short announcements are called Sweeps.  Everyone has access to the News 
Sweeps and can sweep about anything and everything whenever they like.  It's very
 similar to Twitter except that absolutely everyone uses it and gets a daily digest 
depending on their own personal interests.  Corporation don't run the sweeps they 
just try to control them by flooding them with their own propaganda. 

The book trailer for The Gaia Effect:

Is there any religion in your novel? Is the Corporation a nanny-state entity, regarded as 
a deity? Orwell’s Big Brother with kid gloves, or even just Big Brother?
Corporation is in charge of everything, they picked up the pieces after the radiation

wars and continued to build their power base.  They are such an integrated part of
 everyone's life - it's impossible to do anything without them involved in some way.  
There are a few limiting factors however, the fact that Corporation don't run the 
sweeps and that a couple of entities like Force exist independently of Corporation 
and are not run by them.  But yes, Corporation does have a Big Brother sinister feel 
to it, I hope.

Claire Buss with the Mayor of Barking & Martina Cole who was the patron of the Pen to Print competition.

I see you’ve written a play too? If you have an idea, is there a point at which you think “This 
might be better as a play or movie script?” Do you always think in “novel-terms” first? In which 
other media/mediums do you write?
Playwriting is fairly new to me and I've adapted a short story into a play which worked 
well.  I think if you have a story to tell it can be used in different mediums easily.  Short stories are my nemesis and I'm hoping that the playwriting will help me get better at 
telling shorts. I certainly don't lack for ideas.

Who inspires you?
I am inspired by my favourite authors to read because of the whole “if they made it, 
maybe I can” aspect.  I am inspired by people who face adversity every day and still 
get up in the morning and do their best.  I am inspired by the friendly network of 
indie-authors out there and at the sheer vastness of books available to read.

Fave writers?
My favourite sci fi & fantasy writers off the top of my head are: Sir Terry Pratchett, 
Robin Hobb, John Scalzi, Sara Douglas, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Greg Bear, 
Pierce Brown, Brent Weeks, Becky Chambers, Joe Abercrombie, Justin Cronin, 
Jim Butcher, Jasper Fforde, Katherine Kerr, Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson, 
Ben Aaronovitch, Robert Jordan, Iain M Banks, Orson Scott Card and probably 
fifty others that I can't think of right now!  I do read non sci fi and fantasy books as
well, recent favourites have been I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Big Brother 
by Lionel Shriver.

Claire Buss is on Twitter and Facebook. You can sign up for more news at her website.
The Gaia Effect is available from Amazon.