• Amanda Fleet – an interview

    Amanda Fleet

    Regular readers will be aware that I have a writing buddy. Amanda Fleet recently published her debut novel ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’. I reviewed it here. If you would like the chance to win a free copy, then scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up for my newsletter. (Offer open until midnight on July 30th 2016. You will automatically be signed up for Amanda’s newsletter too.)

    All current subscribers will be entered into the draw too. Both Amanda’s newsletter and mine have unsubscribe buttons.

    Paperback copies are available for purchase direct from the publisher. E books are available in all the usual places – here is the Amazon UK link.

    The following questions were batted to and fro over the last few weeks, when Amanda was in the midst of launching the novel, both virtually, and in person at Waterstones St Andrews.

    Congratulations! You have published your debut novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ and very good it is too. How long was it in the making?

    A number of people have asked me this. I had a look in my notebook to see when I started writing it and naturally, I haven’t written the date in there at the start, but chasing through the notebook, it would seem that the first draft took about a year from first notes to first full draft. I then left it alone for a while but had finished the first edit by six months later. It went off to beta readers towards the end of 2011 and I did some more editing, based on their feedback. I then left it alone while I wrote two more books! I was only meaning to write one more, but then the inspiration struck and I didn’t want to lose it!

    It went to Dea Parkin, my editor, in spring 2015. More editing after that. Although I technically started writing it just over 5 years ago, I think the total time spent writing and editing it would be about 20 months. I’ve written a number of other things since, which are hopefully going to come out in within the next year or so.

    An extensive process. Which are your favourite elements?

    Oh, by far the initial planning and sketching out of the plot and writing character notes. It’s a period of discovery and imagination and the ideas come thick and fast – so fast I get scared  I won’t manage to trap them all and they’ll evaporate. Once the planning is done, I think writing the first draft is my next favourite part – there’s still that buzz of creativity going on.

    And the least favourite?

    Editing. I know of some writers who love editing – checking every word and fine-tuning it all until it’s humming – and I admire them for it. That’s not how I find editing!

    Part of the novel is set in Malawi. Why there?

    I went out to Malawi with work (University of St Andrews) many times, working on a project with the College of Medicine in Blantyre, Malawi. While I was in Malawi, I met Mac Nkhutabasa – a man working with homeless children, helping them to return to education and get off the streets. A significant strand of the book developed from working with him to set up a charity – Chimwemwe Children’s Centre – to help the kids. The charity in the book – Samala – is loosely based on Chimwemwe, though Chimwemwe is 100% above board!

    I love Malawi. It is a beautiful country that steals your heart but can also break it. It’s a country that few people seem to know about or visit and I wanted to let people see a bit of it.

    Are you still involved with the Children’s Centre? What does it do?

    I am still involved. Chimwemwe works with homeless and disadvantaged children in Blantyre, Malawi, helping them to remain in education or to return to it. For many families, it is a financial struggle to send their children to school – the cost of uniforms and stationery and textbooks can be more than they can afford – and so the children get pulled out of school to work or beg. Chimwemwe helps the families by buying the uniforms and stationery for the children and paying the school fees for those in secondary education (which is not free in Malawi). For those children who have been orphaned, we help them into foster care and support the foster families as well as the kids (buying food for them so that taking the children on doesn’t mean that the foster family is pushed towards poverty). We’ve also just finished building a centre where the kids can go to do homework and get life-skills lessons. For those older kids who are about to leave school, we help them to get apprenticeships or training so that they can build their own businesses and also give them a start-up grant to help them to find their feet.

    You are Dr Amanda Fleet. You held a permanent post at the University of St Andrews lecturing on Physiology, a post which you have given up to become a full-time writer. Not a small decision. Why did you make it?

    Well… I’d been writing and working full-time for a few years, spending evenings and weekends scribbling away. That wasn’t sustainable! Or compatible with staying healthy, and so I moved to part-time work at the university – three days a week – and wrote at weekends and on the days I wasn’t working. Then, finally, a serious heart condition made me reassess my priorities in life and I decided to have a career change. Writing made me happier than working at the university did and trying to fit too much into too little time was having a significant and detrimental effect on my health. I miss some aspects of working at the university (not least the pay cheques!) but it was the right move and I haven’t regretted it so far.

    What was it like getting from an idea in your head to a printed, published book?

    Surreal. It genuinely feels like it’s happening to someone else! Everyone says I must be really proud of my achievements and delighted to see the book in print… I am delighted, but it feels as if I’m delighted for a friend rather than for myself. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet or maybe I live too much of my life in a fantasy world in my head, but it doesn’t feel mine to be honest.

    You explained that there are two more books already written. Do the characters from “The Wrong Kind of Clouds” feature in them?

    No. Actually, there are more than two written, because The Wrong Kind of Clouds wasn’t the first book I’d written, it was the first to get published. I have a bit of a back-log building up! People keep asking me whether there’s another book with Summer and LB going to happen and I have ¾ of one written with them in it. I think I’ll need to get that one sorted out soon since everyone seems to want more of them.

    When can we expect the publication of number two?

    Hopefully within the year. I’m editing at the moment and that book will go off to my editor at the end of June, for her to make it better.

    What advice would you give to anyone considering writing a book?

    Be sure that you have the time. You’re not writing the book yet, but you fill every minute of your day with something. What gets replaced in order to write the book? Do you stop watching TV? Stop playing sport? Stop seeing friends? You need to think what you’re going to have to give up in order to have the time to write, because there are 24 hours in the day and no more. Just because you decide to spend 2 hours a day writing, doesn’t mean the day is now 26 hours long! You need to know where you’ll get the time from. To have a head full of ideas and no opportunity to scribble them down before they vanish, is hell. Believe me, I know.

     

  • The Wrong Kind of Clouds – A Review

    Clouds

    Synopsis

    In Amanda Fleet’s debut thriller, The Wrong Kind of Clouds, Patrick Forrester is in trouble. Deep trouble. Someone wants him dead. In fact, lots of people want him dead, but one of them has taken him hostage. As he’s being bundled away, he manages to call his ex-lover, Summer Morris, and begs her for help…

    Summer Morris, an award-winning photographer with synaesthesia, hasn’t spoken to Patrick for months. With good reason. In fact, she would have been happy never to hear from him again. But, he begged her for help, so she’s trying to help. Along with an off-duty police officer, Detective Sergeant LB Stewart, she gets swept into Patrick’s world of lies and deceit, in a desperate race against time to find him alive.

    Trying to unpick the knot of Patrick’s life takes them from an affair that could help bring down a government, to the dust and heat of Malawi, and a whole heap of trouble in between. If only they knew who wanted him dead, they might find him alive. The trouble is, almost everyone wants Patrick dead.

    Disclosure

    Amanda is my writing buddy. We met through a twitter chat. (#writingchat – Every Wednesday night at 20.00 UK time.) Mostly, Amanda sends me really helpful links and does her level best to get me actually doing something, and I send her internet links of cats doing funny things. So, yes, I may be slightly biased. However, that said, I am not known for my tact or diplomacy.

    Review

    The Wrong Kind of Clouds is a crime novel that rattles along at a great pace. Despite trying to put it down, I read it in a day, which is pretty much the greatest compliment that I can pay a thriller.

    The characters have depth and are interesting – in fact, I hope to hear more of Summer and LB in the future.

    The Police Detective became my new hero when he said,
    “Yes. I really hate bad cooking. I would rather go hungry than eat something out of a packet.”

    How can you not like a half-French detective, living in Edinburgh?

    It’s a cracking book that I enjoyed from start to finish, never quite sure how of how it would finish. Buy it from troubadour.co.uk as a paperback or if you prefer ebooks, then it’s available towards the end of the month.

    Grab yourself a copy. You won’t regret it.

    And remember, you heard it here first.

  • Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

    A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

    Reflections

    The A to Z challenge is difficult. I tried to find a perfect post length, long enough to make a point, but brief enough that people find it easy to finish.

    This year, I had completed all of my posts in advance, which made the experience less stressful. However, one of my reflections is that I felt more detached from the challenge this year, undoubtedly because I was not writing a post each day.

    That said – I am not sure that I have enough to say to post every day. I am reasonably certain that few people have time to come by and read every day. I am absolutely certain that I do not have time to write something every day.

    There is an inherent danger that a focus on quantity adversely impacts quality, and for that reason, I am not sure that the challenge is for me any more.

    Does that mean that the challenge is no good? No, it doesn’t.

    The challenge is an excellent way to practise discipline and to generate some traffic to the blog. My reflections on the exercise have also made me think about how to publicise my blog posts.

    Many people that read my posts, do it from another platform – Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. Tempting though it is to release multiple messages on each of these platforms directing readers to the blog – it quickly becomes wearing on those people who are connected to me on those platforms.

    I greatly enjoyed the challenge this year, but I suspect that I will not do it next year. My focus will be to post regularly – but advertise selectively. I am grateful to have learned that.

     

     

  • Z is for Zenith

    Matterhorn

    If the A to Z is a Challenge, then today is the zenith, the highest point.

    This post was drafted in early April. It represents the clearing of the decks – leaving me free to concentrate on the redrafting of the best debut novel ever written by me. So, by the time you read this, the first draft will be no more, replaced by a pacier, tighter draft. You, the reader will be propelled through Central Europe in the last decade of the twentieth century, where ambition could make you rich and get you killed.

    To get to that point, a zenith of sorts, I have meandered through a variety of writing approaches and spent a kings ransom on stationery and fountain pens. I have driven my wife to distraction and even the poor dog is sick of listening to tales of Sean and Natalya.

    Congratulations to everyone who completed the A to Z Challenge. Give yourselves a big pat on the back.

    Thank you to all of you lovely people who came by, commented or signed up to the blog.

    I entreat you all. Sign up for updates from any blog that you enjoy. It is a massive boon to the writer. Read more. It’s the zenith of learning and civilisation.

    And of course, buy books.

    Read new authors.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • Y is for Years

    SnakeOil

    ‘Last month, I wrote a book, one hundred and twenty four blog posts and made six hundred and eighteen thousand dollars.’

    Well done! It is always nice to see a fellow writer do well.

    There are a few claims like the above out there. Gurus who have cracked the secrets of making gazillions from writing ‘by following these few simple steps’.

    One of the few simple steps is, of course, to wire some money to the guru.

    I am an open-minded sort of guy and have read a few of these ‘written-in-a-month’ books. My overriding feeling on finishing is always ‘what did you do with the other twenty nine days?’

    I’m sure that there are writers out there who write fast, edit quickly and publish in a heartbeat. I’m sure that they have produced brilliance. I just haven’t found any yet.

    I can tell you from experience that there are definitely writers out there who write fast, edit quickly and publish in a heartbeat. They produce crap.

    Books that have moved me contain years of work. Years of thought, years of experience, years of work. The drafting might not take years, but the process as a whole does. At least that is my perception.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • X is for Xenophobia

    sabre-tooth-tiger-_1117360c

    (Image taken from The Daily Telegraph.)

    Xenophobia. ‘Fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.’ Wikipedia.

    More recently Xenophobia is understood to mean specifically a fear of foreigners.

    In the best debut novel ever written by me, the hero Sean finds himself in a new country, facing new people and challenges.

    He is Xenophobic. Of course he is. We all are. We would be stupid not to be. I am no evolutionary scientist, but I suspect that fear of the foreign or strange was essential. It is what made our ancestors look at a sabre-tooth tiger and think ‘Hmmm… Not sure that I’m going to go give that thing a hug’

    When I hear or read the word xenophobia now, people are using it to lament that prejudice remains. Prejudice about gender, race, disability and sexuality. I believe that it is in our nature to fear that which is strange or foreign. We overcome these fears through learning and education. At the root of learning is reading.

    Read more.

    book_guide_hero_books

    To eradicate prejudice, we need to read more, to learn more, to become familiar with more and more different people and situations. This will help us overcome Xenophobia.

    In short, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll let you know when the best debut novel ever written by me is available – and you can join the fight.

    By buying it.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • Bye Bye Desktop

    Optimized-IMG_0171

    I have posted about how I am becoming a little more analogue in my approach to life.

    I felt that technology was beginning to dominate and dictate my days. Through a combination of electronic tools, I was always connected and always looking at one or more screens. I decided to reassess how I used all these wonderful gadgets. First, I swapped my iPhone for a ‘dumb’ mobile phone – one that works just as a telephone.

    My next target was my desktop at home, where I sit to write. The picture above shows how dominating the computer is – both in terms of real estate and visual impact. The iMac is a beautiful piece of kit – and its screen demands attention. Attention that I very often gave it.

    Below, is how my desk looks now.

    Optimized-IMG_0173

    Quite Zen isn’t it?

    I still have access to my electronic life – I am writing this post on my MacBook.

    The laptop sits either on the slide out shelf under the main desktop – or in a book stand to the side. I open the laptop out when I specifically want to use it: At other times – I use the desk to write letters or notes with a pen, on paper.

    How novel.

  • W is for writingchat

    twitter

    Every Wednesday evening, at eight o’clock, a bunch of people get together on twitter. Each week there is a different writing related theme determined by a shadowy collective that I think of as the ‘White Witches of Words’. (Boy, am I going to get stick for writing that!)

    For any not familiar with twitter – to participate, we add #writingchat to each comment and then follow all comments with that #.

    The chat is light-hearted, and fun. Participants are generous with their time, knowledge and experience. The forum that the chat provides allows newbies like me the opportunity to glimpse other writers and learn that many challenges are shared by all.

    I have met some great people at writingchat, not least, my writing buddy Amanda Fleet. As you are reading this, the self-effacing Amanda is too – and muttering to herself something along the lines of ‘stop talking about me.’ That night’s writingchat was ‘Writing Buddies’ and neither I nor Amanda had one. We skirted the subject shyly. An experienced writer tweeted “Just swap 1,000 words and see how you get on.” So we did.

    Despite her best efforts, she can’t shake me now.

    Very soon, Amanda is releasing her first novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ as a paperback and e-book. Skip along to her blog here for details – and even a discount if you are quick enough.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • V is for Venality

    dollars

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines venality as;

    1. The quality or fact of being for sale.
    2. The quality of being venal; readiness to give support or favour in return for profit or reward; prostitution of talents or principles for mercenary considerations.

    Like it or not, venality is a fact of the world that we live in. I don’t think that I have ever read venality used as a positive attribute, it is always used pejoratively.

    In the best debut novel ever written by me, the protagonist, Sean, could be characterised as venal. He is ambitious, he wants to get on and, he wants to succeed. He is prepared to work hard to achieve these aims. Does this make him venal?

    I suspect that it comes down to how far he is prepared to go to get what he wants. The actions that he takes will determine our view of his motivation. After all, one person’s ‘venal’ is another’s ‘driven’.

    Are we not all venal in some way? Certainly in the ‘developed’ world, many, if not all of of us, satisfy number 1 in the definition above. We sell our time and effort. That is how our world works. What is far more interesting to me is what principles we are prepared to put aside or suppress in return for reward.

    Is venality inevitable in our world?

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • U is for Un-

     

    bored-girl-with-laptop

    Uninteresting, unbelievable, unfair.

    Reading the first draft of the best debut novel ever written by me, I bumped into all three of these ‘un-s’.

    A lot of the novel’s narrative was based on personal experiences and real events. Tall tales of high times in Prague and Budapest.

    These were vaguely amusing to read about for those  present at the time, but uninteresting for anyone else. Minute detail about the journey from one part of the city to another, was nostalgic for me, dull for others. Uninteresting.

    “He wouldn’t do that!” I had pebbledashed the manuscript with muesli. I had made Sean, the hero, do something that moved the plot along, but did not fit with what the reader knew of him as a character. Unbelievable.

    A couple of characters were inconvenient. They had served their purpose in plot terms, but were a loose end. I invented a flimsy premise to remove them. Reading the passage, it felt like a cop out; which is exactly what it was. Unfair.

    These three ‘un-s’ and a few others will quickly turn off any reader.

    A good novel is built on trust. A trust that is built up through the book. A writer abuses that trust at his or her peril. Don’t let an un- turn your reader off.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge