Writing and reading for pleasure – Part Seven (Advent Edition: Dec 8th – 24th | Douglas Burcham

Douglas Burcham completes his 2014 advent post. 


Monday, December 8th – Use different points of view and tenses

Ever since reading about Joe Lampton… “There wasn’t a damn thing I couldn’t do!” in John Braine’s Room at the Top, I have loved using the first person in my writing. I do this almost by accident in the way I structure my writing with straight third-person description and a storyteller filling in the background in the first-person. I understand by using more than one point of view I am breaking many an editor’s heart and rule book and would as a result be rejected for traditional publishing. I chuckle and shrug by shoulders. Writer 1, Editor 0. I have just finished reading a Robert Ludlum thriller where I found too much use of dialogue confused the plot … another lesson learnt by doing!

Experiment with the second-person, You. This can be fun as you will find when used in short bursts. You are about to try this out in your own writing. You will surprise yourself and you may also manage to infuriate your editor but not yourself while acting as your own self editor.

See my response using ‘Alexander’ in September 2013.


Tuesday, December 9th – Mix up the genres

My professional editors both say I should not do this, but hey real life is not in single genres. I have spent too much of my working life putting things in financial pigeonholes.

Bearing in mind my opening tip to keep things short, this post was going to be shorter than those which came before. Well that was my intention… but I feel mission-creep has well and truly come on.


Wednesday, December 10th – Publishing hard copy

Go for the highest standard of print layout and production one can. Use clear fonts – why, oh why, does Times New Roman seem the standard when its readability is so low. A secretary who helped me while at work used to work at the Royal National Institute for the Blind and their recommended font was Arial for those whose sight was impaired.

So many books are printed on dull cream or grey paper because the printers say this is easier to read. I suspect it is also cheaper paper than high white.

Dear Mr. CreateSpace and Lightning Source; please can you use your computer processing to avoid those spare pages at the end of your books. I know advertising does get out-of-date but blank pages could be filled. The best solution would be to get your authors to write a little more or a little less.

[Editor: Printers work with book files with an even number of pages. If your submitted file is an odd number of pages, they will add a blank page. I suspect this issue is also due to authors inadvertently including blank pages at the end of book files.] 


Thursday, December 11th – Cover design 

Everyone says ‘get a professional job done.’  I am not sure given what I see on Waterstones’ shelves and their tables full of new books. Having worked with designers for many years who find many ways of taking clients’ earnings and savings, I think EGO and FASHION play a big part here. Many self-published authors I speak to say this is their main area of dissatisfaction. Try to take ownership of YOUR cover, keep it simple.

I am a great fan of the neat old-fashioned house style; the best being the Penguin and Pelican books in various colours. I am minded to imitate if I move from writing for pleasure to publishing.

If a cover is supposed to attract, then the best one for me recently is J.K. Rowling’s hardback of The Casual Vacancy. Red, black and yellow is a real bull in a china shop. The paperback version has a cover which is just another pretty picture like so many others.


Friday, December 12th – Get professional help

I wrote about how editing is a difficult area in my last post, that is; to strike a balance between getting advice and your book becoming the editor’s book. I look back at the two professional edits I had done for me and I appreciate the supportive comments which allowed me to carry on writing.

I repeat, the big issue to avoid is YOUR BOOK becoming your EDITOR’S BOOK. Many editors are not bestselling authors. These are the writers who seem to me to object most vociferously to editors who want to change a book — a basic human nature; stones and greenhouses perhaps! If I have a change of heart and publish traditionally, I will probably seek selective, professional editing.

Editing can go further into ghost-writing, although this had deathly implications in the Robert Harris book Ghost and later film adaption staring Ewan McGregor.

I note all the recent fuss about Zoella having had her record bestselling book ghost written. Perhaps I could have saved myself many hours of effort by giving my plot ideas to a ghost-writer to write the words. The next mad plot I think of I may refer to a ghost-writer to see what happens.

Thanks Bobby for a topical and interesting post.


Saturday, December 13th – Marketing

If I had included this under Friday, those superstitious readers may think it is a bad day to read about marketing, especially given one of my professional editor’s view about marketing being a black art! Two key issues here:

  • The most difficult aspect of book publishing is getting readers to buy your book, which is about influence and not control. 
  • Everything else in the writing process and publication can be under your personal control. 

Getting other people to read and buy what you have written is a big problem area, just like teenagers finding their way in the world. My tips are to write for pleasure – a cop-out, I know! Or get your book read on BBC4 radio. See sales post broadcast of Ian McEwan’s The Children Act and also Stephen Grosz – The Examined Life. A great page-turner about what happens next in each short account of an actual case with changes to client’s names.


Sunday, December 14th – A twist in the tail

This is another day of rest. Phew writing is hard work and far more difficult than working.

If only I could do so well as Roald Dahl and Jeffrey Archer!


Monday, December 15th – Memorable moments and associations 

It will not come as a surprise to you to read about this return to reading. When I inspect my lists of best life time reads, all the books have a memorable scene, theme or moment which I recall even though I have usually forgotten most of the rest of the story in the book. Listing the moments could be regarded as spoilers for the books, but a few old books are quoted as examples 

  • HG Wells War of the Worlds — A connection and memory of listening to the story on a wireless under our kitchen table as a lad. I recall the main character in the ruins of a house looking at the robots building other robots and his friend being carried away. The hairs on my neck still bristle. 
  • Hill of the Red Fox — A book given to me as a teenager by my sister in law. The sad ending came as a shock, the first such book in my reading. 
  • The Sett — Ranulph Fiennes – The whole basis of the story of Alex Goodman being told by Ranulph with reluctance. The audio version being read in his gritty Yorkshire voice by Bob Peck of Edge of Darkness TV Thriller fame. Bob Peck; a great loss so young. My writing tip; do have a memorable moment in your writing. Associations are more personal and difficult.


Tuesday, December 16th – Description again.

Ina previous post, I said I would refer back to Monica Wood – yes, repetition I know.

The first book Description by Monica Wood in the More of How to write a Mi££ion book starts with an interesting and thoughtful introduction.

Description is not so much an element of fiction as its very essence; it is the creation of mental images that allow readers to fully experience a story. When you write a story, you offer an account of a chain of events, the characters that inhabit those events, and the places those events occur. How you describe those events, characters [actions and feelings] and places affects your readers’ perceptions.

These few simple words with my addition in […] sum up how I need to write. I can identify with this state of mind view as a reader and feel challenged to start improving what I have written in the hope I can complete writing I am happy with.

Three recent reads illustrate this well; The Children Act, Regeneration and The Ghost Road

For me, Monica explains in her book of advice better than most other people what the essence of good writing is, and how to help overcome the barrier of advice being easier said than done.  


Wednesday, December 17th – Competitions 

I took what I thought to be good advice and entered many short story competitions in 2013. Then I read a post by a competition judge who explained how difficult it was to choose stories which did not fit one’s own perception of what a good story should be and the expectations of the ‘literary world’. I had already noticed this when listening to the 2011 BBC 4 Short Story competition with me being very upset with the results — especially the story about a heart transplant not winning.

You seem to have to write how the ‘literary world’ expects you to write, to their set of rules on a subject. Judges, often editors, seem to love stories about the three-way love triangles. Yawn… boring, not another! What about something fresh and unusual? Of course, I would say that as a writer of unusual fiction. I feel very often the Judges do not get it. 


Thursday, December 18th – Aim high 

Aspire to write as well as the best. Part of Stephen King’s advice about reading is to find authors to emulate is very good. I aspire to write as well as Julian Barnes does most of the time; Ian McEwan more so, and Robert Harris who to me is consistently good. Pat Barker and Robert Wilson set a standard for description. These traditionally published writers have not a monopoly. Self-published author Angela Petch’s book Never Forget sits alongside the previous August five on my bookshelf. 


Friday, December 19th – Be Yourself 

I have always felt my writing would just flow in the way I wanted it to. This produces problems with editors and other readers not liking what I write. I think back to the new Ford cars I used to see out of Dagenham while waiting at the bus stop to go to school. All the new shapes of Consuls, Zephyrs, Classics, which looked new fangled, then became commonplace and now look so dated. Worrying about whether readers will like what I have written (like the Ford designer’s justified worries about their products) is a matter I have managed to push to the lowest priority. I look at writers who write in a similar way to me and see their sales ratings… if only! 


Saturday, December 20th – Enjoy writing friendships 

That’s it, teens are over. During 2014 I have continued to benefit from the wise advice and companionship of writing contacts face-to-face and on the internet.

A friend of mine has recently had a major heart operation and he expressed disappointment it has not improved his golf. Little did I know when I wrote this in draft I would be following him. I do not think my writing has improved either! 


Sunday, December 21st – Shock and awe 

Surprise, shock, horror – working on a Sunday! I always like one or more of these in a story.

Omar Sheriff comes to his water hole in Lawrence of Arabia and shoots Lawrence’s young guide, who you as watcher have come to like!

Another great one film: the cell revelation scene in The Shawshank Redemption.

The more unexpected the moment, the better. I will not quote any book scenes for risk of spoiling the moment for readers. In my favourite book list, these shock moments often equate with memorable scenes like the ones above. 

So much for another day of rest only three more days to go. 


Monday, December 22nd – Writing is a long term activity 

Take your time and enjoy your writing. Try to improve your story until the law of diminishing returns sets in or you believe what you have changed is worse than what it was before. I understand most authors who appear to have become famous and bestsellers over night have been grafting away for years. I laugh now at my naïve plan in June 2010 to write and publish a million words over three years. Instead, having written the draft words, I am now enjoying my time in the foothills taking pleasure in writing and reading, drinking red wine (now if pills permit ) before thoughts about pushing up the publishing mountain; if that is what I decide to do. Really what I am doing now is turning the words I wrote for my own satisfaction and pleasure into something with a few more signposts because any readers I may have, should I decide to publish, will not have the full million words buzzing around their heads.

This is a nice list of points on self-editing by Helen Bryant (Cornerstones).


Tuesday, December 24th – Wishes and final reflections 

Enough thoughts for 2014. I have nearly run out of days and the post is too long. May I wish you all a very happy Christmas and good writing and reading in 2015. Is it really 15 years since all the scaremongering about Information Technology at the Millennium? I will have to see how I measure up to doing what I suggest above in my own writing in 2015.


Wednesday, December 24th – My last reflections on 2014 writing and reading for pleasure activity

  • My million draft word target set in June 2010 and achieved in January 2014 proved a great spur to creative writing and I would recommend a similar approach. However, do not leave gaps to come back to later because they don’t get any easier to fill! My attempts to make progress on self-editing and restructuring these draft words by setting a target of 18,000 words a week has been much less successful. I think this must be because creative writing is fun and self-editing is less so, and maybe I have pushed up the quality bar a few notches to where I want to finish.
  • Meeting with other writers and beta reading their work has been stimulating and enjoyable.
  • Trying to create a web presence for the Allrighters as a new writer has been harder work than doing the same for a local writers’ group. The lesson is to have a range of products to sell.
  • Reading in terms of scope and interest has been good. My 2014 Allrighters recommended reads are:
  • Fiction – The Silkworm by R Galbraith. Highly enjoyable; a modern Holmes and Watson. Before the ghost writer broke cover there were apparently few sales, so what it is to be famous! 
  • Best semi-fiction – Regeneration by Pat Barker. Engrossing WW1 writing from an interesting viewpoint. The electric shock treatment scene is etched into my memory.
  • Non-fiction – The Prisoner List by Richard Kandler. Mind numbing. The forgotten war. “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today.” Drawings by Jack Chalker and Ronald Searle in separate books leave little more to the imagination.

Thanks to all those who have wished me well after my last post. My doctor asked me today whether I was ever a smoker. “No” I replied, “ Well you have the heart of a heavy smoker!” My brother thinks it was all the steam engines during my train spotting days..


Next post – January (with a reading theme).

Waterstones with a large dreamy Christmas Book token in monetary value to spend – so much better than an e-book!


DouglasDouglas Burcham started writing on 1st June 2010 and has not stopped since. He was saved from the clutches of vanity publishing by Mick Rooney in TIPM in July 2010. In May 2013 his characters took all his fiction writing and set themselves up as the Allrighters with other writing friends. They self-published a book of short stories “Ywnwab!” in September 2013. In their latest Plan, by working in 18,000 word bites, Douglas, along with the Allrighters, are now trying to convert a million words of draft writing into several reader friendly books totalling 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes.

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