Debut Novel Syndrome

Debut Novel Syndrome is, of course, well-known. You haven’t heard of it? Shame on you. Alright, I confess. I made it up. As far as I am aware, which is as far as the first page of the search I just completed, Debut Novel Syndrome is not a thing. It should be though.

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Up for air

I’m up for air. If you could see me, you’d be worried. I seem confused, lost. My hair is a mess and my clothes could do with a wash. The look in my eyes belongs in a spaghetti western, and my beard is unkempt. I have been so deep into writing that my surroundings, back here, in the real world, are unfamiliar.

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Characters – The Antagonist

Last week I introduced you to the Protagonist, Sean. Locking him up in a cardboard folder has done him the world of good. He has emerged more likeable, balanced and fun to be around. Time now to meet Jana.

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Characters – The Protagonist

Notebook II is filling up fast.

Several times, I have resisted diving into the manuscript and re-drafting. That’s what happened last time, and see where that got me.

I’m determined to put more effort into the outline, so that the characters don’t end up wandering off on tangents.

More importantly, I need to get to know my characters. They’re already much changed over the last couple of years. Their time in the cardboard folders has had radical effects.

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Structure

In my first ‘members post’, I promised to find the manuscript folders, and maybe even open them. I am delighted to report “Mission Accomplished.” Tempted though I was to dive straight into the narrative and start making tweaks, I resisted.

Instead, I scan-read the entire draft, focused on the story. Apart from the glaring inconsistencies, the plot meanders. In parts, the characters stumbled from one scene to another without rhyme nor reason, and in the next wandered off nowhere in particular, for entire chapters.

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Draft Wrangling

Book 1, draft 1, is 85,000 words. Book 2, draft 1 is 50,400. Both were written quickly (I won Nanowrimo 2015 with book 2).

I blazed away, focused on hitting word counts. If I faltered, I hit the forums, or Twitter, where well-meaning cheerleaders enthused and urged us not to worry about structure or plot holes. All of that could be fixed later. After all, didn’t Hemingway write, “the first draft of anything is shit”? Or was it Stephen King?

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Members

Members

4 minute read

I’m building a new lifestyle, here in the sun. Mags and I packed up and moved to Cyprus at the end of September 2018. If you are interested in our journey so far, click on the category “Living the Dream” which catalogues our progress.

I do a few things to keep me busy. Nero’s Notes is a company that sells notebooks and stationery online. Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd  offers anti money laundering expertise. I like to hang out with my family, which for me, means Margaret, and our canine sidekick, Spice. I play golf.

Each pastime rewards me. With revenue, satisfaction, joy or a combination of these. Thankfully, I do not try to earn money from my golf; I would be very hungry if I did rely on it to put food on the table.

My real passion is writing. I love to write, both on paper or on a keyboard. I love talking about writing. Agonising about writing. Complaining about writing. Writing about writing. In February 2015, I confidently posted here about writing my novel. April 2016, I was going to publish.

Ah.

In a matter of hours it will be 2019. I still haven’t published a novel. That’s despite taking time off other work to write the book.

Why not?

The answer to that will run long, and will certainly run the risk of being defensive, and self-serving. I shall try to be concise, and honest.

Imagine starting a new job. You arrive, eager and excited.

A desk? You need a desk? You’ll have to buy one. With your own money. A computer? Yes, you’ll need to buy that too. Pen? Paper? Yes, that too. You need to buy it all.

You realise that these things actually cost a bit. A lot actually, if you like the good stuff. Undeterred, you rationalise that these tools are important. You will use them every day to work; to work at being a writer. You’re investing in your future. The earnings will cover it.

Earnings, yes. Those. How much will you earn? Well, for the first eighteen months, nothing. Nada. Zip. After that, you can self-publish and you never know, you might get a thousand or two in sales. That might translate to a few hundred after costs.

Hmmm…hoping for more than a few hundred? Fame? Fortune? It takes years to be an overnight success, you know.

It takes hard work, talent, hard work, luck, hard work, timing and hard work. Did I mention hard work?

And with all that, the chances are that you will never earn back the money you invested in equipment, let alone the thousands of hours of your time.

That’s why not.

Why now?

Having spent a couple of years “being a writer”, which did involve some writing as well as quite a lot of buying writing ephemera, I ended up with not one, but two, first drafts. I had even done some work on combining those two drafts into one timeline. Then I stopped. Nero’s Notes took much of my time, Lime grew. I decided that these two things had better earning potential.

While that was undoubtedly true, it was not the whole answer.

I don’t like the idea of editing or of trying to find a publisher, or self-publishing. I don’t like the idea of putting hundreds more hours into marketing, with huge portions of any revenue going to third parties.

Those things too, are undoubtedly true. They are not the whole answer either. Yes, the work is daunting, Yes, the return per hour will be tiny.

The real obstacle is fear. Pride. Imposter syndrome. For many reasons, I measure success in pounds and pence. Publishing will crystallise the loss. Somewhere, I will have a spreadsheet that starkly demonstrates that writing is a waste of my time.

Now. I’ve told you. You know the truth. That’s a relief.

I’m going to edit the drafts. I’m going to publish – first to members, and then to the wider-world.

Membership – A new model

As I publish books, they will be for sale through all the usual channels, with all the usual cuts being taken by the middle-men. However – members of this site will already have copies as part of their membership.

Members will pay £12 a year. A pound a month.

Members will get access to subscriber only posts, on writing, publishing and productivity, direct access to a members chatroom, where I will hang out, and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year, before it is available on general release.

Members act as both the carrot and the stick. Revenue (after payment fees) comes direct to me, not to Amazon or Apple. Having people willing to commit upfront creates a huge incentive to repay that faith, to overcome imposter syndrome and to publish.

This approach is not new. I subscribe to several websites with similar models. The Pen Addict for one. I was inspired to write this post by Matt Gemmell, who has an excellent membership scheme and website. He has also written two superb novels, Changer and Toll, which I heartily recommend. Buy them, or even better, become one of his members.

How to join

If you would like to help, then become a member of stuartlennon.com, or give a membership as a gift.

I will still be publishing many posts on the site for everyone, after all, I want people to find me. However, a proportion of posts will be exclusive to members. Non-members will see the following message.

“This post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year.”

Naturally, there will be a link to become a member.

I don’t anticipate a tidal wave of people signing up. There are already many, many demands on our wallets. However, if you do feel able to become a member, then I’ll do my very best to give you value for money, and you will be helping me to live the dream.

A great read.

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What Ho everybody!

Gratuitous photo of the Christmas tree and Nero the Schnauzer at his devastating cutest.

Mrs L has decided that the tree should be in a new spot this year. Mostly, I think that she enjoys watching me move furniture about. In fairness, the tree does look great next to the fireplace and the move has created a little nook, ideal for my armchair.

This morning I sat in that chair and read. A book. A real one. You know, with pages and everything.

I spent three hours finishing off an excellent novel with the dog at my feet. I suspect it is only a matter of time before Radio 4 becomes the soundtrack to my life.

The novel was ‘Rather be the Devil’ by Ian Rankin. It is the latest in the immensely successful Rebus series. I should disclose that I am a massive Rankin fan. I’m not quite stalking the man, but I did attend a book signing in Guildford recently and whenever in Edinburgh I accidentally fall into a pub from one of the stories.

In this latest instalment, Rebus and his old adversary Cafferty prove useless at being retired and skirmish again across Edinburgh.

For hardcore fans like me, this novel is bittersweet. Rebus is showing signs of mortality, reminding me that he is getting a bit long in the tooth and has not exactly lived ‘clean’. Still, he’s off the cigarettes and has cut down the booze and takeaways, so perhaps he is going to get a second wind. Gloriously, he remains maverick with a determined, pathological distaste for authority.

A great read.

I know that I have read a great novel when I feel sad that I must leave the world of the book. In my head, the last few days I have been hanging out in Edinburgh pubs, trying to piece together clues to the mystery. Now, the mystery is solved and I must return to the real world with sulky regret.

Writing

writing image

Most of you have forgotten, but I am writing a book.

I’ve forgotten from time to time.

Fortunately, I somehow snared a writing buddy (Amanda Fleet), who reminds me.

Amanda and I have been discussing a character in my novel. We’ll call her Natalya. As her name is Natalya that seems the simplest thing to call her.

She is quite a looker and smarter than the average bear. Amanda wanted to know what made this woman tick. Had I worked out where she was from? Did I know her backstory?

I began typing an answer to the question. I stopped for a cup of tea. Then I typed some more. And more. Yes, I did know where she was from, what made her tick. To my own great surprise, I know a hell of a lot about her.

This taught me two things, which I now share with you for free. (Don’t forget to buy the book when I publish it)

  1. When I’m not sure about a character, or a plot, I’m going to write down the question, and then start writing the answer out. It’s amazing what’s in the head, waiting to come out.
  2. You do not need a writing buddy to write a book. But having one makes it a hell of a lot easier.

Amanda has not mucked about as much as me – you can buy her book here.

When not toiling away at the book, I have been preparing for my wee walk which is a scant six weeks away now. Stu and I are, in turns, terrified and excited. How bad could it be?

Right. Off to polish Natalya. (Ahem…)

 

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.