Monthly Archives: December 2012

Adventures in writing – a personal journey by Stuart G Yates. Looking ahead.

As the New Year draws ever closer, it is time to take stock, to look back and consider achievements, projects, thoughts. But also, far more importantly, to look ahead.

Projects. I hate that word. What I do has nothing to do with any ‘project’. I have ideas, and some of them expand into stories. Some even become novels.

I wrote a number of books last year. Some were the reworkings of old ideas and sketches, but others were totally new. I felt, in my heart, that I had to explore new avenues of my imagination. I began to play around with scenarios, the germ of an idea developing into something much more substantial. By the end of 2011, I had published ‘The Sandman Cometh’. This is what is termed a ‘cross-over’ book, suitable for both Young Adults as well as adults. I enjoyed writing it. When I was young, the Sandman would come into my dreams – or nightmares, putting it more accurately – and hurtle me into a terrifying world. So, I wrote it down and the novel was born. Nevertheless, I wanted to push myself still further.

 

Always being fond of history – and teaching it for my job – I penned VARANGIAN, the story of Harald Hardrada, king of Norway and the last great Viking. A remarkable man, he met his doom on the field of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire in 1066, just a few days before the crucial Battle of Hastings. His earlier life, however, had been the stuff of legend, even when he still lived. Leader of the Varangian Guard for the Byzantine Emperors, his story was crying out to be written.

I planned a trilogy. The first book would tell of Hardrada’s escape from Constantinople, where enemies had imprisoned him, and his journey to Norway. The second would detail how he became King, expanded his empire, and met with Harold Godwinson’s brother to plan an invasion of England. The third, inevitably, brings the three main characters together – Hardrada, Godwinson and William Duke of Normandy – and the life or death struggle they all became embroiled in. I suppose, contradicting myself as I often do, this is indeed my great project for the next year or two.

Having completed Varangian (the first part) I then did something with it I had never done before. I got it professionally edited. I knew it was a great story, that it had plenty in it to suit everyone. The plot was complex, with many sub-plots, and the characters were strong and well rounded. Hardrada himself, although central to the story, was not the main character. This was a young captain of the imperial guard who finds himself thrown into this hot-pot of vice, corruption and murder – the echoes of Imperial Rome sounding loud in the corridors of Constantinople. Through him I was able to develop all sorts of diverse themes and plots, and include a romantic thread that will run through the whole series. I won’t give too much away, but the story is well documented. As it is historical, the basic plot is already done, only the characterisation and the dialogue requires work. It’s great fun, but of course it will all end in tragedy!

Well, after the editing (and I had parted with the money) it was time once again to pack it up and set it out into the world of agents. I kept an open mind, as I always try to do, but there is no escaping the fact that with each rejection, my self-belief began to suffer. I am of the opinion that the majority of agents do not even look at an author’s work, unless they have been personally introduced, or the writer is a celebrity. It’s quite obvious, no matter what they say, that almost 99.9 percent of everything they receive they simply ignore. Yes, I’ve had some great comments from one or two agents, but the majority couldn’t care less. I sometimes wonder how they make their money.

Anyway, the point is, with my heart in my boots, I sent it to a couple of independent publishers.

Within two weeks, those two publishers wanted my book.

Can you imagine! My God.

I settled on one, who seems totally professional and has a good catalogue of noteworthy books, and the contracts have been signed and I am to start work on it, with their chief editor, in the spring of 2013.

It’s an exciting time. I’m about a quarter of the way through the second volume, and have even drafted the first chapter of the third. So, it is all up and running. Except, I have other things in the pipeline too.

Thrillers, filled with murder, deceit, blackmail, sex and violence. That’s what I want to write about. Not just historical ones, but gritty modern sagas. So, that’s what I’m doing – or, should I say, that is what I have done. 2013 is certainly going to prove one of the busiest and productive years I have had so far. I only hope it is the most successful too.

If you’d like to learn more about my ‘adult’ thrillers, please visit my website: www.stuartgyates.com where you can find all the information about what I have written so far.

Thanks for reading, and a very Happy New Year to you all.

 

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Adventures in writing…a personal journey by Stuart G Yates: back on track!

The main difference between writing a work of historical fiction, as opposed to what could be termed ‘ordinary’ fiction is, of course, the research. The facts have to be correct. There’s no getting away from this if the story is to be authentic, and not a fantasy piece. I have always longed to write historical fiction and some of my Young Adult works have been well grounded in research. My first published work, ‘Cold Hell in Darley Dene’ dealt with the immediate post-war years, and the aftermath of what happened during a bombing raid on Birkenhead in 1941. I knew the story, but I still had to check up on the facts. However, it was during the writing of ‘Death’s Dark Design’ that I seriously took up the mantel of research. This involved labouring through masses of literature, weaving all the numerous threads that would bind the story together. It was set during the civil wars in England between Henry VI and Edward IV (which became known as The Wars of the Roses), and I had to link this into what was happening in Eastern Europe at the same time. Because, of course, my villain was a vampire, and had to meet up with Vlad Tepes (whom some of you may know as Dracula). It was fascinating, and my own work of fiction grew as a consequence and became, for me, one of the best things I have done.

When I began to turn my mind away from paranormal fiction, I wrote a historical pierce set in Spain in the Seventeenth Century. ‘The Story of Don Luis’ grew out of what was happening to a boy in my school. He was being relentlessly bullied and was becoming ill because of it. I couldn’t do very much, being a lowly teacher, but I told him I would show everyone what a great person he was, that he was better than any of those who were making his life a misery. I would write a book, and it would be about him.

That summer, I did just that. ‘Don Luis’ deals with a young boy who is hounded by the local toughs. They make every day hell for him, because he is ‘different’. He can read. I poured my heart into it, and produced a story that showed that strength of character and love can conquer all. cover

When he saw the book, Luis burst into tears, but they were tears of joy. It is one of my fondest memories about writing. How books can change lives. Wow, that saying has never been more true than when it came to Luis’s reaction. It helped him, I believe, in realising that he has so much to offer, and is a far better person than those who attempted to hurt him.

I researched that story, got everything right. One day, I will write the sequel. I have ideas for a series of books about ‘Don Luis’, but they will have to wait, because now I have the bug gripping me about William ‘Rufus’. More about that, next time.

Until then, I’d like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas. I love this time of year and I sincerely hope that love and peace visits you all at some point over the festive season. As Dickens says, ‘God bless us, everyone!’

You can visit my websites to read about my books and where to buy them

For Young Adult paranormal books (including Death’s Dark Design) go to www.glennstuart.co.uk

For adult and ‘cross-over’ works, including ‘The Story of Don Luis’, go to www.stuartgyates.com

Thanks for reading.

 

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Adventures in writing…another slight detour, and why not…

Inspiration. The essential ingredient when it comes to writing. I’ve talked a little about it before, but I think I need to expand, because for me it is not the lack of inspiration which prevents me from writing, but the lack of time. Holding down a full-time job, one that takes all of my energy, makes for difficult juggling of the hours. By the time I get home I am simply too exhausted to do anything other than make some dinner, watch a little TV, then go to bed. All I’m left with is the weekend, and something invariably comes along to get in the way.  The guilt then sets in, and I begin to feel deflated, depressed even. Because when I am not writing I am rudderless, drifting aimlessly. I fight it, but life always wins through.

Life. My god, there’s a topic for at least a hundred thousand blogs.

So, back to inspiration.

Personally speaking, the love of writing is inspiration enough. I remember Stephen King talking about simply sitting down and writing. The process itself is sufficient to remove the dreaded ‘writers; block’. And I think that’s true. His book ‘On Writing’ is a true classic, a wonderful insight into one writer’s mind, how he works, what he considers ‘good practice’, or indeed ‘good practise’. Both fit perfectly with his way of thinking. Elmore Leonard’s ‘Ten Rules of Writing’ is the only other book of this type I would consider keeping on my bookshelf. A brief but insightful guide from a master storyteller. He’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but he has an enviable way of painting pictures with words that make his books simply buzz along. You don’t have to think too hard with Leonard. And if want to be entertained, then that’s surely how it should be.

I want to entertain with my words. I’m not so pretentious that I think that what I have to say is in any way important. My books are to be read to be enjoyed, nothing more. I don’t make social statements, or philosophise about this and that. I simply tell stories.  I love Henning Mankell’s Wallender books, but some of his others, where he goes on about the changes of society, they leave me cold. Sorry. Each to his own, I know. The thing is, if I want to know about all that, I’ll read non-fiction. We should know about such things, of course we should, but…

The problem is, I’m going to contradict myself now.

Not everyone likes non-fiction. Some are put off by the very nature of those two words. Many like to read fiction, for example, which is historical, and they can learn a good deal about the past, how personalities changed worlds, etc, without actually realising it.  However, we must always be aware that what we are reading is fiction, not fact. Just as when we watch Braveheart we don’t believe it actually did happen like that. Because it didn’t. It’s when fiction begins to dress itself up as fact that we have to take care.  We, as writers, should never purposely mislead our readers.

So, what has any of this to do with inspiration? Well, there I was, teaching my class of twelve year olds about one of the great mysteries of the early Middle-Ages. The curious death of William II, in the New Forest in August, 1100. Shot by Walter Tyrel. Dead. A terrible, tragic accident. Or was it? Could he have been…murdered…? And it struck me, right there, just like that fateful arrow….why don’t I write the story? So I sat down after my class and, armed with paper and pen, I sketched out the story, from beginning to end. Twelve basic scenes that will intertwine and bamboozle and leave the reader suitably satisfied and entertained. Not twisting the  history, rather embroidering it. Using the facts as a vehicle.

Only then did it even cross my mind to consider if anyone else has actually written such a story.

So I checked that mine of information on all things literary – Amazon. The well-thought of Edward Rutherfurd, Marilyn Durham, Jo Beverley (a very personable author) and…Well, that’s about it really. Some others mention poor old Rufus, but only in passing. Really, it’s only Durham’s book which goes into detail. So, even though the story’s the same, the telling will be different, and the characters, the scenes, the plot…

You see, the juices have begun to flow, and this is the reason I write. To enter into a new world, of my creation. I love it.

To discover something of what I do, why not visit my website, www.stuartgyates.com where you will find links to my books and how to buy them. Thanks for visiting, and keep reading.

 

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Adventures in writing…a slight detour

I’m writing early this week, as this weekend I am off for a pre-Christmas visit to that most beautiful of cities – Paris! So, a few thoughts before I wing away to the City of Love…

I received an interesting email the other day, informing me of new innovations and opportunities for writers ‘in the digital age’. As technology continues to advance at frightening speed, many traditional platforms for publishing and ‘getting yourself out there’ are being forced out of the market by the online revolution. Self-publishing is a boom industry, and more people than ever before are able to get themselves into print. The number of free offers, events, newsletters, online magazines, etc, etc, are everywhere. I constantly receive all sorts of notices concerning free promotion this, opportunity that…I may be like a lot of people. Whenever I see that my inbox contains messages, I feel a little thrill of anticipation. Could it be Harper Collins signing me up? My fingers fumble for the mouse, body shaking, perspiration springing from every pore, anticipation mounting…and then the anti-climax when I discover it is yet another vague and distant marketing company desperate to sign me up and make me into the world’s number one. A far cry indeed from when I began, pounding away on my Olivetti, alone in my room, with only myself and a library full of great literature to guide me through the writing process. And life, of course. The greatest teacher of all. Self publishing in those days was too expensive to even consider. Now, with Smashwords, Kindle, Nook and a whole host of others offering free opportunities to get yourself ‘in print’ it is so much easier. And so alluring.

However, let’s just take a step back from all of this.

There is one fundamental truth that has not changed, not since the days of the Ancient Greek dramatists who put their words down on velum scrolls and had actors perform them to spellbound audiences. Not since Defoe penned Robinson Crusoe, or Dickens laboured over Hard Times, published his stories weekly, and left audiences gasping for more as each extract ended on a tight-rope – the precursor to our ‘modern’ diet of televised soaps. All of them, from Aesop to Zola and every great writer in between have one crucial thing in common.

The writing is good. Often, it is great.

That was then. Nowadays anyone can get themselves published.

The romance of seeing your name on the cover of a book, the sheer thrill of achievement that gives, is a strong lure.

But I would ask everyone to pause for a moment and read some of the reviews for many of these self-published books. Note how many times readers mention typos, bad spelling, grammatical errors, how all of this interrupts the flow of the reading experience. I’ve talked about how editors can tear you apart, try to dominate, change your direction, but a good editor is essential if the work you have produced is going to be raised above the slush. No editing at all, that has to lead to the sort of comments you see on Amazon. ‘Best-sellers’ receiving five-star reviews, is all very well, but then, every so often, a one-star from a discerning reader who knows what makes a book good, or, be it one from Thomas Hardy, even great. The story is important, but it has to be well written. Sometimes I doubt if these self-published authors have even done a second draft, let alone a third, or a fourth.

I write fast. I can get a seventy thousand word first draft down in three weeks. I am on fire when the inspiration grabs me. But it is the editing which takes the time. The rewrites. Going through every sentence, sometimes every word, working, grafting to make it the best I can. That is what takes up all of my time, and it can be mind-numbingly difficult. Three weeks becomes three or even four months. This process, however, is essential. I haven’t always been like this. Impatience to see myself in print drove me on. Now, I can take my time, determination overcoming impatience. I want to do the best I can. I am not longer satisfied.

None of us should ever be ‘satisfied’ with what we write. Never.

Given all of the above, I have considered self-publishing a book I have written. The problem is, it doesn’t fit in with any of the usual genres I write in. Therefore, I might give it a go. I’ve rewritten it four times and I believe that now, finally, it is ready. So…we shall see.

You can read about what I do by visiting my websites.

For Young Adult material, pop along to www.glennstuart.co.uk and for adult thrillers, visit www.stuartgyates.com. On both sites you will find where you can buy my books. I hope you enjoy them.

 

 

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Adventures in writing – a personal journey by Stuart G Yates, part 14.

Firstly, an apology for being late, but I came off my bike in the morning and it shook me a little. Nothing broken, except my pride. I was feeling a little down before that, and the spill only served to make it worse.

I got to thinking and posed the question to myself, is it all worth it? It takes a lot of effort to write a book. From the initial idea, the rough scribbles of scenes, the planning, the writing of endless redrafts…Then, finally, when it is published and the cover looks good enough to eat…nobody buys it. I don’t do this for the money, I have to stress. If I did I would have long ago dropped by the wayside. No, I do it for the sheer love of it, but it would be nice to get some recognition. I have 14 books published now – 10 Young Adult novels, and four cross-over/adult ones – and I would say I’ve probably sold less than 50 books to people I don’t know. So, really, in all seriousness, I have to ask, what is the point?

Just the other night, I was watching a music-video and there was a tiny scene in it which really made me think. I began to formulate a story in my head, the first tiny seeds of something, something I could develop. And it struck me, right there – the reason. The reason I write. I write because I am a creative person; I love conjuring up stories, living them, immersing myself in a new world of my imagination. It doesn’t matter that I don’t sell any copies. In fact, I am seriously considering giving up all of the social network business. It’s never going to improve anything. But to write, well, I simply have to. There is no argument about that.

 

The Pawnbroker, set in Victorian Birkenhead, is a real tale of terror.

The Pawnbroker, set in Victorian Birkenhead, is a real tale of terror.

 

I set my next couple of books in my home town. The last of my trilogy of Island Animal Rescue novellas was set in Birkenhead, as was The Pawnbroker. This book had begun life way back as a twenty thousand word novella when I lived on Alderney. I had an idea to churn out dozens of such books, all tiny ones, fast-paced, easy to read. But the story wouldn’t let me. After I had re-written it, developed the theme, made it so much bigger, such a feeling of achievement swept over me, but even so something was changing inside. The need to write much more gritty and ‘grown-up’ books gnawed away at me. I planned a cross-over book that would appeal to adults as well as teenagers. It was time to reach out.

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