All posts by Simon Speight (Worried of Woolcombe)

Synopsis and cover letters


Okay, this is the question. How is it possible to condense one hundred and twenty two thousand words down to two double spaced pages of A4? And now for the tricky bit, for it to tell the same story as the longer version so that your reader can glean a flavour of the story? I was amazed at how hard it was.

I had spent a few weeks viewing the task with a degree of trepidation and finding excuses not to begin. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. The book was completed, seven versions, and now I needed to send it out.

Creating a synopsis I discovered takes practice. My first effort was too long and detailed. I had written a chapter by chapter plot line that told the story, but in far to much detail. Attempts two, three, four and five were improvements, but still too long and too much detail. I turned to the internet, our new font of all knowledge and discovered it had the answer, actually many answers.

Reading the thoughts of agents and publishers who are the recipients of our endeavours, they all wanted the same thing. Brilliance, an undiscovered gem that would catapult both the agent and the author to the pinnacle of Sunday Times bestseller list and leave them there. If that were not possible they would settle for a synopsis that showed them that the author could take a story and keep it interesting, coherent and gripping over the course of a hundred thousand words. Could the author continue to deliver beyond the three sample chapters. I have learnt that an agent will read the sample chapters and then the synopsis. If the sample had promise and the synopsis sounded interesting i stood a chance. Oh also nearly every agent wanted us to spell their names correctly…

Now the covering letter. I nailed this in under ten attempts, an improvement of sorts. the essence I gleaned from my font of all knowledge was that the letter was three short paragraphs. The first paragraph was a very edited version of my story, the second an explanation of the genre and what is unusual about the book and finally a brief biography on me and the type of fiction I enjoy.

The samples synopsis and covering letters have been despatched and so I wait in hope of a response, any response.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield


The War of Art - Steven Pressfield

For a writer, all writers, this book should be required reading. Robert McKee, a screenwriting genius wrote the foreword for the book. Robert McKee said,
‘Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art for me. He undoubtedly wrote it for you too, but I know he did it expressly for me because I hold Olympic records for procrastination.’

Procrastination is the enemy of us all. In his book Steven Pressfield calls this enemy Resistance. Resistance is elicited whenever an activity requires something of us. For instance, the pursuit of writing or painting, education of any kind, diet or health regime. Or as Pressfield say’s, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favour of long term growth.

His book then goes on to characterise the forms that Resistance can take. In part two he talks about combatting Resistance and the difference between an amateur’s approach and a professional’s approach. A lovely quote is from Somerset Maugham. When asked if he wrote to a schedule or only when inspiration struck he replied,
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” He’s a professional.
This book has had a bigger influence on me than any other. It has helped me, forced me, to complete my novel. It keeps me working even though there are a thousand other things I would rather do and most importantly it has allowed me to realise that it is a privilege to do what I do: write, but I have to remember that I have to do my work everyday to keep Resistance at bay.

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How do I market my book?


The book is finished. The cover is commission and is underway. I’ve sent out queries to three agents, but I’m a realist. They are awash with novels from first time hopefuls of every age group, genre and level of ability. The slush pile is feet deep and growing deeper every day. I think my chances of being plucked from obscurity is slim.

So, this puppy isn’t going to sell itself, but as a person who is at best an inexperienced marketeer, what is the best approach. I have Facebook and have started posting at least daily, (www.facebook.com/worriedofwoolcombe), I’m on twitter, but need to be more tweety than I am at the moment (www.twitter.com/woolcombe1) and I’m on tumblr, but don’t do anything with it other than my blog posts go there automatically (www.tumblr.com/blog/worriedofwoolcombe). I need to build my audience, attract more followers and generate interest so that when the book is ready to go on sale i will have a group who might be happy to spread the word.

Two things i will be doing to encourage people to read the book is firstly, prior to it’s launch, make the first chapter available on this blog for people to read and pique their interest. Secondly, the first week after it’s launch all downloads of the entire book will be free.

If you’ve any ideas of effective marketing strategies please leave a comment.

As always, if you like my post please like me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/worriedofwoolcombe) and leave a comment. If you don’t like my post please let me know why. Thanks

Ghosts – part 1


An odd title for a post you’re probably thinking. I agree, it is. Bear with me. My recently completed first novel, Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased), has a main character who is a ghost. But why did I choose a ghost?

The idea came to me when I was recovering from a serious heart problem. It is at moments like these that you begin to consider your own mortality. I had a lot of thinking time on my hands and I began considering what there was after death. Is there anything after death? I came at these questions initially from a quasi-religious perspective. I’m not overtly religious, but I do believe there must be something rather than just emptiness, but what?

If there is ‘something’, that then leads on to the question, is this ‘something’ a homogenous mix of everyone? Good and bad? Or, as it is generally asserted, there is a division; good people upstairs to heaven, bad people downstairs to hell. What then happens if you weren’t supposed to die? You hadn’t reached your predetermined death date? If you had been expected to remain alive on earth for years longer? Potentially you would have a lot of loose ends that hadn’t been tied up. Unfinished business.

This was where my story began. One of my main characters had been killed before he should have been. Inevitably he had unfinished business, in his case a lot of unfinished business. Therefore as a relatively good man he went to limbo.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionaries definition of limbo is: ‘A region supposed in some beliefs to exist on the border of Hell as the abode of the just who died before Christ’s coming and of unbaptised infants’. As limbo is also viewed as a fictitious place or mythical place and by Roman Catholicism as ‘the place of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls (such as infants and virtuous individuals)’, I felt vindicated in using limbo in my story as a place that those with unfinished business go to. They remain in limbo until their unfinished business is resolved and then continue to heaven. I have assumed if you’re bad enough for hell you go straight there.

In my next post I will cover how I view limbo in my novel.

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Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting and…


I thought Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased) was complete, finished, dealt with, ready to go. It had been edited, typo’s removed (hopefully), grammar checked and now pretty good. So good to send to agents and see if there is any interest or whether I am going to be Indie man. I’m happy either way to be honest and the fact that I have commissioned a cover design perhaps adds credence to the inevitability of following the independent publishing route.

I had found three agents who handle the type of book I have written. Checked there submission criteria, the main one seems to be, spell their names correctly…So I decided a quick reread through the first three chapters to double check for typo’s would be a good idea. Oh shit, I can’t send this out it’s awful, really awful. After the nausea had subsided and I’d stopped hyperventilating, I accepted a little light polishing would be useful and began the buffing. Two day’s and five attempts to improve the first three chapters later, it was better, much better. Tighter, more tension, atmospheric. Excellent.

I began working on the synopsis and covering letter. I’ll come back to those in my next post. Synopsis and letter complete, I’ll read through everything I’m sending and then email it to the agents I’d chosen. Oh shit. Not quite as shocking, but had I thought this was good? This process was in danger of repeating itself for weeks, possibly months.

I’m think I’m suffering from a common writing ailment, obsessive rewriting syndrome. The symptoms are, an inability to see if a piece is good or really does need more work and a reluctance to let go. The reluctance to let go is the hardest to deal with, as will be the inevitable rejection, humiliation, penury, followed by self loathing and…okay, wait a moment. Now I have identified the disease the cure would be self apparent. Never ever send anything to anyone, no that was the alter ego speaking.

If you believe it’s as good as it can be, send it, post it, publish it, get it out there. With feedback comes insight. You never know someone may like it.

Have a look at my Facebook page, Worried of Woolcombe and if you’re in the mood, give me a like. I’m happy to reciprocate.

Punctuation and Grammar


Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr.

Now that I write for a living, I am increasingly aware of the importance of not making too many mistakes with punctuation and grammar. If you spend months or even years crafting your novel, it would be awful if your prose are let down by clumsy punctuation and poor grammar. I wasn’t bad, not perfect, but not bad. Now that this is what I do full time, I needed to be as close to perfect as possible.

I tried Grammarly, an online punctuation and grammar checker. Initially, it seemed quite good. I would copy and paste my text into the program it would analyse the text and highlight my grammatical errors. Some aspects are better than others. The dictionary they use to compare your text to is awful. It doesn’t recognise many simple words offering ludicrous, or worse, no alternatives. Subscription cancelled.

Two books I have found to be incredibly helpful are: Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr. and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Elements of Style is an excellent textbook of correct English grammar and punctuation. A little dry, but it offers a comprehensive explanation of the different areas of grammar and punctuation as well as providing a list of commonly misused words and phrases and commonly misspelled words.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a far lighter introduction to punctuation. It covers all of the common punctuation marks , providing a history of their usage and the correct way to use them.

I hope I have benefitted from having them on my bookshelf.  Any punctuation or grammatical errors in this blog are mine alone!

Is plotting okay?


Dandelion

 

I ask this question because of Stephen King. Let me explain. I have been listening to his book – On Writing – which is amazing and he is vehemently anti-plotting and advocates a free thinking, stream of consciousness approach.

I have and would continue to struggle with that. I like the structure that is offered by a planned plot line. I know where I am, I can see how the plot will advance and how my main characters are interacting with each other. I know I have covered all of my bases and not let a  character or sub plot slide off to one side and disappear, unconnected to it’s encouraging introduction. Is this wrong?

Should I feel intellectually inadequate because I prefer to have what some view as an a cheat sheet to see me to the end of my novel?

I have thought about this a lot and come to the obvious conclusion. Of course not. In my view plotting a novel doesn’t suppress spontaneity, it helps you focus on the nuts and bolts leaving your sub-concious the time to work on the twists and turns. An outline is a roadmap or perhaps even a shopping list. It allows you to see the routes from beginning to end and not lose sight of subplots and minor characters.

Will I continue to write in this way? Yes. Should I join the free thinking seat of my pants writing? May be one day when I have the confidence and trust in my ability to venture away from what I know and am familiar with.

Beyond fitbit and Fast Diet


From Wikipedia. Photograph by George Stepanek
From Wikipedia. Photograph by George Stepanek

This post is by way of an update on my experiment with The Fast Diet and a fitbit  exercise tracker.

Fitbit first. I love it. The determination to get all of the lights lit up isn’t quite as obsessive as it was, but I still value it as a way of showing myself that I haven’t just sat and eaten. According to the fitbit I must have moved as well as eaten…

The Fast Diet isn’t such a success story. I struggled to organise myself sufficiently to do fast days. By that I mean, I would happily come down in the morning, eat breakfast and then realise that I was supposed to be fasting. So fasting would be postponed until the next day. The following day we would repeat the eating breakfast mistake, this time because it wasn’t my usual fast day and the cycle would be repeated. I actually went weeks threatening to have a fast day, but being too disorganise and dim to actually achieve it.

So we thought we would juice. We bought the juicer, the Reboot with Joe Cross Juice Diet book, three hundred pounds of assorted vegetables and went for it. When I say went for it, that isn’t entirely accurate. Actually it’s a complete fib.

The first morning we juiced for breakfast after having ginger slices and lemon in hot water instead of our usual cups of tea. Not too bad, this might be okay. Lunch was a green juice involving kale. Not so good. The sulphurous, cruciferous vegetables were a mainstay of the majority of the main meal shakes and were more than I could  deal with. If this was the only way  forward I was doomed. We have now sold the juicer.

Redemption came in the form of the gym at Sherborne Sports Centre. I have never been an enthusiastic exerciser, or even a reluctant exerciser to be honest. Then I had my epiphany and the eat less, move more, mantra became mine. This gym is excellent. The staff are knowledgable and helpful, the equipment is in superb condition and the other facilities are what one would expect from a sports centre adjoining a top public school.

I have begun to get a figure that I can be proud of. Lumps and bumps where they should be. A better posture which is pulling the sagging bits into line. The biggest pay off from this investment in me is confidence. Now I’m starting to believe I can do whatever I want to do. I just have to prove myself right.

On getting older…


SONY DSC

 

I’m not old per se, more mid life.

Life has crept up on me unexpectedly. One minute I was twenty, carefree and alive, the next it’s now and the intervening years are a blur with highlights.

I don’t regret my life, not for a moment, but… I am at an age where looking back is done less in anger, more with wistfulness.

If it were possible to meet my eighteen year old self, what would i say? Difficult question, so many things I should have done and even more I shouldn’t have done.

I wouldn’t have advised myself eighteen year old self on specifics; don’t work for him, don’t go out with her, do buy that computer and keep it boxed like new for twenty  years etc., etc.

Looking back over my life since my late teens, what I needed was a mentor. A person who could motivate me, guide me and encourage me. More than anything I would have told myself what I am telling my own children now.

We can all do whatever we want to do, as long as we are prepared to work with a single minded dogged focus. Ignore the rejection and continue regardless and believe in your own ability. You are far more amazing than you realise.

Would I have listened? Probably not, unless I could have known then what I know now. Will my children listen? Perhaps in part, if I can show them, by example, that I am now prepared to follow my own advice.

 

 

The Dorset Kitchen


IMG_1724

 

I’ve not had any time to write over the previous two weeks as the boss is opening a new business. We have been running an outside catering business for the last five years and a change was required. Not a complete revocation of the outside catering, more an adjunct to it.

The Dorset Kitchen is a cookery school with a twist. The school is principally aimed at children 8 years and over to show them how to cook outstanding food using local ingredients. The school opens on 14 July 2014 and will run daily over the course of the children’s summer holiday’s. After that, dependant upon the response over the summer, the boss will be running weekend cookery clubs for children and begin offering a small number of back to basics adult classes.

My role in this venture is website designer, Facebook and Twitter content developer and chief washer upper. As the first advertisements begin to appear the pressure to get the website live and kicking gets increasingly intense. The boss’s expectations vis a vis web design have completely outstripped my ability. What we end up with will be a combination of luck, flair and fortitude in adversity.  Or, pulling out of day dream land, whatever I can cobble together by tomorrow afternoon.