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October 2011

I wonder what H P Lovecraft would have thought…

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When I was about eight years old a very good friend of mine introduced me to a game called The Call of Cthulhu. A roleplaying game. For those of you that don’t know what one of those is, I suggest you go look it up.

At the time I had become an avid reader, but it was limited to kid’s books and comics. I hadn’t yet ventured into the world of adult novels. I was only eight.

Anyway, this friend probably didn’t realise it at the time but he introduced me to something that would shape my interests for years to come, to be honest it was that introduction that was the first step towards the day when I started writing my own stories.

I was still in junior school, and another friend at school had an older brother in the high school next door. We used to sneak out there during lunch breaks and wander down into the town with them. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be out of school, but you know how it is, that made it all the more exciting.

Well, we’d wander into the town and hang around in the churchyard, and one day when we were there I noticed that just across the way was the library. I hadn’t been in there before (that I could remember) and told my friend I’d be back soon.

I wandered into the library and went up and down the aisles. I must admit I was looking for comics, of which none could be found, but what I did find was a whole section on horror books, and smack in the middle was a bunch of H P Lovecraft novels. I remembered the name being mentioned by my Call of Cthulhu playing friend and decided to have a quick look.

I didn’t have a library card with me at the time (had one at home, though), ┬áso I sat in an alcove reading one of the books for about half an hour before realising I was probably very late getting back for school.

The next day I took the library card with me. It took me hours to find it in amongst the junk in my bedroom. At lunch, again, I headed into the library, and ten minutes later came out with five books. Four of which were H P Lovecraft, and the other was the book sitting next to them on the shelf. “I am legend” by Richard Matheson.

I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you how fast I devoured those books. Anyone who is a fan of either author knows exactly what I mean by that.

That was my introduction to horror, to Cthulhu, and the start of a reading addiction that has spread out into many different authors and genres, but I always go back to those first two. If ever I’m short of something to read I go to the Lovecraft books on my shelf, or the Matheson ones. They never wear out.

Not long ago, I sat with my wife watching a new film (at the time) ΓÇô Cloverfield. I’m quite the J J Abrams fan and that was the newest thing he’d released.

I’d seen the trailers and followed the build up to the release, but daft as it may seem I hadn’t seen the Lovecraft influences in it until I actually watched the film. Now, Abrams has openly admitted to being a Stephen King fan, and King has always spoken highly of Lovecraft , but it wasn’t until I walked away from that film and started thinking about it and realised just how profound an influence Lovecraft has had on so many people.

Think about it. How many horror writers do you know of that list his name as their biggest influence? Is that nearly all of them? If not then look at what their influences are and you’ll find a list of writers that were.

How many of those writers wrote books that were turned into the films that we watch? And music ΓÇô yes even music. If you are a Metallica fan then you you’ll know which songs I’m talking about. Cripes, Lovecraft was even on scoobie-doo once.

This guy wrote a whole bunch of strange tales that were slated at the time as crazy, but his words touched those who have influenced culture and media ever since. It makes me wonder what he would make of it all. I mean back then, when he was writing his stories, he would have no idea of how much of an influence he would have on the lives of future generations.

Back then, when I was eight and reading his books for the first time when I probably shouldn’t have been. I thought they were crazy. I still think they are, and I think a lot of the books and films written by writers who grew up on his writing are pretty mad as well and I love them for it.

I wonder if Lovecraft would think they were crazy too?

And to think that I nearly stopped writing!

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I’ve written all my life, to some degree. Fantasy, scifi, horror, romance, comedy etc. Yes, I’ve written roughly thirty unfinished novels in pretty much every genre that exists. I never took it seriously, you see, never thought any of it was any good. Until 2007.

I started writing the original Diary of the Displaced that year. I wrote what was to become the first eight “episodes” in about 2 months and put them up online for anyone and everyone to read. I also sent out about thirty emails to publishers and agents at the time spouting about how I was writing this book, and would they be interested in taking a look at it. I guess at the time I failed to look at the guidelines for a lot of them, I was all too excited about what I was writing.

Of course, what this resulted in was a year later and I’d recieved no replies at all. I also didn’t pay attention to the stats for the website that I created for the book, otherwise I may not have given up. After about a year of what felt like “nothing” I did what so many others have dones. I gave up. I lost heart. I’d written some more of the book, but I never bothered to put it online. What I originally thought was a cracking idea for a novel – maybe even a series – can’t have been that good.

I also stopped writing for the first time in my life. The writer’s career, that dream, was officially over.

Until november 2010.

For two years I hadn’t written a single word. Nothing. Nadda. I didn’t have it in me any more. Then, one day in November, I got an email from my webhost provider saying that www.diaryofthedispalced.co.uk was now due for renewal after two years. Had it really been that long? I went onto my hosting package client thingy and was about to click on the “Don’t renew” button.

Something stopped me. To this day I don’t know what it was. Maybe curiousity.

I went into my email program and looked into the accounts. I’d never even added the email address there. I’d never collected the email from my diary of the displaced email account. oh, well, I thought. May as well have a peek at it before I get rid of the domain name. I’m not paying for something I’m never going to use.

So. I added the details for the email account, after faffing around because I couldn’t remember the password, and finally hit “send and receive”.

Nothing happened. The little indicator for how many email were being collected just sat there frozen. Sigh. Oh well. I went outside for a cigarette and came back five minutes later. Maybe the program had frozen?

No it hadn’t it was on 10% collected, after five minutes. And the inbox said 2100 unread messages. Spam? must be spam I thought. Crikey can you really pick up that much spam on an email address over 2 years?

Turns out most of it was spam, but nearly 4000 of the 20,000 ish emails were from folks saying that they liked the book. When was the next episode coming out? Are you still writing this? Have you vanished? hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people had emailed me over the two years since I posted those first episodes.

Some people had been waiting for two years for the next episode!
(Is it too late to apologise to them now?)

It’s strange (actually no it’s not) how something like that can imediately switch the writer in you back on. From november 2010 to May 2011 I finished that book. The first book I’d ever completed in my life. These days I write about two to four pages a day (ish) and I’m now writing my sixth ebook, and I’m we’re still in 2011. In five days it will have been six months since I released the finished version of my first book. Just six months.

I do wonder if things would have been different if I hadn’t given up back then. If the lack of response from publishers and agents hadn’t put me off (How many writers stop writing because of that?), how many books could have I written in those two years? I also wonder what would have happened if I’d never collected those emails.

I guess I forgot what really mattered and was so wrapped up in my rejection from those in the business that I forgot that they actually stand for nothing without the people whose opinions really matter. That would be the readers. I’m so glad that this digital ebook boom has opened the doors that the gatekeepers kept shut for so long. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not bitter about the rejections – at least not like I was a few years ago – they are just business people looking for what they can sell. No different to any other business, I guess. I don’t really give them much of a passing thought these days and I think that in some ways I had some lessons to learn. I just write the stories, design the covers, and them put them online and two days later anyone that wants to read them can. Job done.

How to get that novel written (how I do it)

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A lot of folks have asked me how I manage to write as much as I do whilst juggling a day job and a family. Well, here’s the thing. 60k words or 90k words or 20k words for a novel or a novella sounds like one hell of a lot to write and I think a lot of folks get put off by the sheer volume that is mounted in front of them. My kids do exactly same if you put a huge plate of food in front of them. They’ll pick at it, but not eat it all. Of course, if I put a tiny plate of food down in front of them they will eat it all and ask for more, resulting in the big plate getting eaten.

Um, yeah, so, my really life changing advice for writing a novel is to eat like a kid.

Ahem.

No, really. It sounds daft doesn’t it?

Let me show you what I mean in a way that actually has a result.

I want you to sit down and write 200 words. Right now. Don’t think about it.┬áOpen “Word” or grab a pen and write 20 lines of absolute rubbish. Doesn’t matter if it’s dazzling prose, or if its utter trite (Some people say that’s what I write anyway so if it works for me…)

Don’t continue reading until you have done that.

Okay? We now have 200 words on screen or on a piece of toilet paper, or wherever you put it.  How long did it take you? Ten minutes? Five Minutes? Twenty?

Here’s the fact.

If you do that every day, this time next year you will have written enough for a 300 page novel.

200 x 365 =  73,000 = 300 (ish) page novel.

Or 3 novellas. Or a short novel and a novella.

This is something you have to do every day, including your birthday and Christmas, otherwise you will get out of the habit.

Dealing with the other issue – continuing the novel.

It’s sometimes hard to pick up where you left off. Actually, it’s always hard to jump back into that frame of mind in an instant, and how you are going to do that is by not finishing what you started each day. Yes, ignore all that “Finish what you start” stuff. You’re going to finish what you start by not finishing it every single day.

Leave your writing in mid-sentence / mid-paragraph. Leave it hanging. Try not to leave it sitting there waiting for you on at the start of a new page or a new chapter. If you leave it mid-sentence you will be in a much better place to get into your “writing mind”, because you already knew what you were going to write next, and finishing that sentence or paragraph should be enough to drag you into your writing “place”.

To give you an idea of how writing just a little bit a day can soon add up. This blog is just over 550 words long and it took me five minutes. I don’t blog every day, but if┬áI┬ádid I would have clocked up 200,000+ words every year. or three novels worth (Or ten novellas).

This works for me, working 50+ hours a week, being a husband and a dad. It can also work for you.

So, to follow my own advice I’m going to finish this blog in mid…