Sunday, 20 June 2021

The moment that changed my novel - Don't be afraid to change course if you're stuck in a rut

 Don't be afraid to change course with your novel 

It's always good to hear that people have finally got down to writing that novel that they've had held deep inside of them for years spurred on by the pandemic. Or to read about those writers who have never gotten so much writing done.

If you're like me and find yourself in the I'm struggling to write anything camp, you might feel discouraged.

Struggling to write? 

At several points over the last year, I have seriously thought about giving up writing anything at all. Because of money pressures, I have found myself working longer hours to earn money from ways other than my writing. Unless you are one of the 1% of writers who makes a very good living, writing fiction is a very badly paying trade.

It's only just recently that I have re-focused back on my work in progress, a psychological crime thriller. The reason - I've realised I need a different approach. 

Time for a new beginning

The beginning of the book has to be rewritten and rejigged to make it the compelling read I want it to be. The type of book I love to read which I hope to write.

The moment of realisation came for me when I witnessed a distressing scene where a woman was staring at a couple's daughter who looked about 9 years old. This was in a supermarket and the woman's staring was such that the mother noticed it and pointed it out to her husband who angrily spoke to her. 'What are you looking at? Stop staring at my daughter like that.'

In usual circumstances, if someone spoke to you like that and everybody turned round to stare, you would be mortified and shuffle off away from public scrutiny. But this woman kept staring. It was as if she was transfixed and I could see the man getting angrier and advancing towards her.

Thankfully at this stage another lady who appeared to know the woman ran up to her put her arm around her and led her off.

I later found out from someone who worked in the supermarket tills that she knew the woman who had been staring and her daughter had been abducted by her husband 2-years ago and taken abroad. Apparently, she still kept seeing her child everywhere.

'I think she thought that little girl was her daughter,' the check-out assistant told me. 'She's mistaken other children for hers too before.'

Good fiction comes from truth

As well as feeling heartsick for that poor woman, the whole thing made me think that the novel I was writing that had a similar theme of a missing child, needed to be changed.

What if after witnessing such a scene and finding out the reason behind it, someone offered to help her find her child? And so I decided to totally restructure the start of my novel.

Will it work and make it the gripping read I want it to be? I hope so. It's in witnessing human moments like hers that you realise reality is often stranger than fiction.

I also hope, that one day very soon, that poor woman is reunited with her child.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Why I love zombies


I'm not the only one obsessed with the dead who rise

I often get asked when people look down my list of published books why I wrote a zombie novel? It doesn't seem to fit in with my profile -  I've been a vegetarian for over 30 years and a crime writer.

I've written books on compassionate living, bullying due to my bitter experience of it, caring for your dog because of my experience of having rescue dogs all my life and I'd even written comedy books. 

How does that fit in with being obsessed with humans who die then come back to life, desperate to devour human flesh? 

I'm obsessed to the point of coming up with theories of how an actual zombie apocalypse could start. When I go for walks with my rescue dog I think about where would be the best place to be holed up if the Dead started to roam the earth. How secure would that place be? How would we get food? How would we survive?

Seeing zombies through the eyes of Rick Grimes

That's the one thing the zombie genre gives you - pure escapism. 

Zombies give me something else to think about other than the problems we all face in our lives - nightmare neighbours, rude and obnoxious people who don't speak to you for 5 years and then out the blue accuse you of something nonsensical, constant worrying about money and the welfare of those we love. 

Zombies are my escape from the true horrors of the world - could anyone have imagined a pandemic like the one we are experiencing - and daily existence.

Unlike real life, living humans who don't die and come back to life, with zombies you know where you are - avoid them or if they bite you and you die and then come back as one of them. 

If only life were just as simple. 

I also love to be scared - when it's a movie, TV show on novel but not in real life. There are enough things to scare you in real life. 

I also love exploring how the zombie apocalypse brings out the best and worst in people. I enjoy the way anyone can be redeemed. 

And that's one of the other things I enjoy most about the genre - how it explores the best and worst sides of human nature. Nothing shows someone's true colours as much as a zombie apocalypse. 

Nothing shows someone's true colours as much as a zombie apocalypse

SPOILER ALERT! - Don't read the next bit if you haven't seen the season finale of Fear The Walking Dead. 

Just ask Morgan Jones who was thrown into the path of walkers by a so-called ally Victor Strand in Fear The Walking Dead.


If you're interested in checking out my very Scottish zombie novel, here's it is -  

One woman rages against the zombie hordes! Check it out here 

Or, if you prefer direct links here -

Amazon UK
Amazon Australia

Stay safe everyone.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The ouch diaries


Ouch, that hurt!

It was 2-weeks ago now that I had an accident and badly sprained the ligaments in my writing hand from my wrist almost up to my elbow. 

The bruising has all but gone but even writing a a sentence with my hand is very painful. Any kind of jerking or twisting movement is painful and a lot of the time I'm it feels as if there's a mass of elastic bands in my wrist and they've all been overstretched and knotted. 

I am now officially a writer who cannot write. By that I mean I cannot physically write with my hand. 

Because I have to write - like other writers it's a natural imperative and not a choice - I now have to rely on speech to word software. Wow, that's been fun - I say that ironically. 

It's great when it works and saves me time but when it doesn't work it costs me time. That's unless I want to write a load of gibberish.

Harley is sad I can't play tug with him 

The worst thing for me is having to slow my speech down to a crawl because text to speech software is not designed for Scottish people or anyone who talks at any kind of reasonable speed. I have to talk very slowly or the words that are printed bear absolutely no relation to the words I have spoken.

Sometimes the results can be funny. Like when I type a perfectly normal sentence and it replaces one of the words with a swear word that I definitely didn't say.

Will I keep on using speech to text software once my wrist has healed? 

I might but it seriously needs to improve. Not everybody speaks like the Queen of England and it's time the software reflected that.

I think this evil wee guy came up with the speech to text software I'm using 

If you have a suggestion for some good text to speech software or apps I could be using, please drop me a line in the comments. 


Sunday, 14 March 2021

Elisa Lam - What happened to the brilliant writer at the Hotel Cecil?

Elisa's disappearance captivated the world

I watch a lot of true crime documentaries but you have got as under my skin as the mysterious case of Elisa Lam.

Few facts are known about her last hours. This is what is known.

Elisa was a 21-year-old student from Vancouver who travelled to Los Angeles to see America. An avid user of the social website Tumblr here who talked about being bipolar, she found the hotel on the internet and decided that she would stay there. 

That decision would lead to her death. 

The Hotel Cecil had a dark, dark history of murder, suspicious deaths, overdoses and suicides. It's been said that Night Stalker Richard Ramirez used to stay there and when one night he turned up covered in blood nobody batted an eyelid, such was the regular craziness at the Hotel Cecil. 

Some people even believe it's haunted or cursed. Maybe both. 

19 days after she went missing, Elisa's lifeless body was found naked in one of the water tanks on the hotel's roof. An autopsy was unable to establish how she died because of the damage the water had wreaked on her body. 

After investigating her disappearance, police found hotel footage of Elisa acting erratically both inside and outside the elevator. At one point, she seemed to be talking to people or person's unknown outside the lift. In another, she's frantically pushing the button in the elevator as if desperate to get it to move.

The autopsy was long and drawn out. Ultimately it declared that this was a case of accidental drowning. There were no recreational drugs in her system or asthma. 

Here's what I think happened to Elisa Lam. Please note - this is only what I believe happened - 

My Theory 

Elisa was scared. Scared of the noise she heard coming through the hotel walls. Scared of the men who tried to hit on her. On her last morning on earth, she came out of her room looking through the keyhole several times to make sure no one was about. 

She was in the hallway when she heard someone coming. She frantically jumped in the elevator to avoid them, frantically banging on the lift buttons trying to get the door to close. She made the same mistake many of us make when we're in a hurry and unwittingly pressed the buttons to keep the door open for two minutes instead of the correct ones to close it. 

She panicked

That's when she had a discussion with someone outside the lift. It freaked her out so much - as any interaction would in her highly stressed state - she ran up the stairs to the roof to avoid this person or persons. 

When she got to the roof she thought she had evaded them but all she'd managed to do was leave herself with no escape or place to hide. 

Then she saw the four water towers that supplied the Cecil Hotel's water. Not wanting to get her clothes wet, she hurriedly took them off and placed them on the edge of the water tank at a point she thought they couldn't be seen. 

She climbed into the water tank

She then climbed into the water tank using her fingertips to try and desperately hold on to the top rim and waited for the person to leave. But she misjudged how far away the water was from the hatch or lid and as she tried to frantically keep herself from dropping into the water she accidentally pulled her clothes full in. 

One item of clothing was heavy and sunk to the bottom. She went down to retrieve it and that's when she drowned because she couldn't get back out. 

Her hiding place became her tomb.

This theory is pure conjecture on my part. We may never know the true story. 

My agoraphobia

I have personal experience of living in the type of sheer terror I believe Elisa suffered in her last hours on earth. I suffer from agoraphobia - defined as the fear of wide, open spaces, to me, it's more about the fear I have of other people. 

My agoraphobia was brought on by the extensive bullying I suffered throughout my teens. When I lived alone, I would go into hypervigilance mode and before I stepped outside I would check that the coast was clear. This would involve looking out the window, peering through keyholes, listening at the door for anyone coming. All part of the reconnaissance I would do before I would leave my home/room.

Her story draws you in

What we do know is that the Canadian student who wrote about the difficulties of growing up on Tumblr that she used like a Dear Diary, will never be forgotten. Through reading about her disappearance at the Cecil Hotel and watching the Netflix documentary, we feel as though we have gotten to know and care about her. 

Elisa may have perished but she lives on in the minds of everyone who's heard her story and those who've read her amazing words on her blog. 

I have no doubt that she would have made an amazing writer. Like so many talented people she died too soon. 

Monday, 8 February 2021

submitting to publishers and agents is tougher than writing the actual book


So you think you've done all the hard work? - submitting to publishers and agents is tougher than writing the actual book.

I know this is not what you want to hear. It's not what I want to write either. You've worked tirelessly to get a finished manuscript. Honed it as best as you can. Edited and edited it to perfection. 

Now you are ready to send your baby off into the world. 

This should be the easy part, right? This is where I have to be totally honest with you. I find submitting the book to publishers and agents is much tougher than writing the book itself and it can take just as long if not longer.

The reason? The different guidelines that agents and publishers have for submissions.

And when I say different guidelines the very between individual publishers and agents and noticed agents and publishers.

Take the latest book I am submitting to agents and publishers (yes, some do accept manuscripts directly from authors). One publisher, I'm submitting to wanted 5000 words that best show your author's voice. And they don't necessarily have to be the first 5000 words of your book. 

This is an unusual request because submissions usually involve sending your first 3 chapters or 5000-10000 words or similar.

At the moment, I have 7 different publishers and agents on my top list and they all have very different submission guidelines which means some submissions can take a day or even days to prepare. 

What is a synopsis?
The synopsis is a case in point. There seems to be a difference of opinion in what exactly a synopsis is and what it should contain. To some, it's a rundown down of the story, whereas to others, it's more of a pitch for your book mentioning how you think it will stand out who will beat it and what competing books are. 

It's differences in what you have to submit and what interpretations are of what that material should contain that make submitting your novel so difficult.

If like me you are at that stage the best of luck to you. You have entered one of the most frustrating aspects of being a writer - the crazy world of what a proposal should contain.
Please let me know how you get on.