In one of my first blogs I wrote that I had reservations about joining Twitter but soon became an addict. I love it now – I like the interaction with people, the humour, the way news breaks ahead of other channels, the help and advice and recommendations people share and the momentary glimpses into other people’s lives. Another thing I like about it is that I can flit in and out at whim, there’s no obligation or expectation on me to stay tweeting if I’ve other things (work/life) to do.
There are a few things I dislike though and I don’t think I’m alone – these are the things that turn me off and make it most unlikely that I’ll follow you:
People who only tweet ‘buy my book’ over and over and make no effort to connect.
People who only tweet ‘read my blog’ or ‘visit my site’ over and over etc.
People who do either of the above and ask me to RT.
People who I’ve had no interaction with who baldly ask me to follow them back.
I don’t know what you do but when I get a new follower I usually check them out to decide whether I’ll reciprocate, I go to their home page and see what their last dozen tweets have been about, what their interests are, if they might be good company on Twitter. If it’s all heavy ‘marketing’ style stuff I won’t bother following back. If their tweets are protected or they don’t have a profile picture or they only tweet once a year, I’m unlikely to follow them too.
In the guide Tweet Right by @nicolamorgan she likens Twitter to being at a party and I think that’s a good analogy, it’s a social network not an online store. That and the ‘never tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see up on an advertising hoarding’ are good advice I think. Another entertaining post on etiquette comes from @crimeficreader you can see that here.
Catch you later.
Recently I tweeted to ask my followers if there were any topics they’d like me to blog about and @JanetOkane (follow her on Twitter) wanted to know what it was like writing novels based on pre-existing TV characters. (I write the books based on the popular Scott and Bailey ITV1 cop series.) When Transworld editor Sarah Adams approached me to do the prequel to the show I’d three instinctive reactions: delight at the prospect, fear that I’d get it wrong and panic that I wouldn’t be able to do it by the deadline. Delight because I was already a fan of the series and loved the characters and tone. Fear for the same reason. We all assume that we are seeing a character on screen in the same fashion but what if my interpretation on the page turned out to be way off kilter?
After an initial meeting with Sally Wainwright and Di Taylor, the show’s creators, where we discussed the three central characters (Rachel, Janet and Gill) and agreed on the back stories I would cover and what my murder case would be, I began work. The first line came instinctively and captured the flavour of the book but was it too rough? Too blunt? A confab with my agent Sara set me right. But the fear for the rest of it remained and the only way to deal with this was to seek some reassurance before I’d completed the draft. Once I’d written a few chapters I sent them to Sally and Di for comments. They gave me a resounding thumbs up which was a massive relief and I carried on at full pelt. Every so often I emailed Sally with queries about the characters: did either Rachel or Janet like football (no), is Rachel’s dad alive (yes) and how long has Janet been married (25 years); to make sure I wasn’t veering off track or writing something that would demolish continuity with the television series.
The fact that I really liked the show was a huge help in writing the characters, they were three dimensional for me already. It wasn’t hard to imagine how they’d respond to the new traumas I dreamt up for them. Or what they’d say. Another advantage was that we share the same Manchester territory (one of the reasons that Transworld thought of me in the first place). So the local references, the landscape and the atmosphere are familiar to me as are the rhythms of speech and the things people say to each other. There was no need for research visits or hours spent online looking for locations or dialect words. No time either! Remaining true to the original also gave me licence to swear much more than I usually do in my work which was immensely enjoyable. Thankfully I must have been doing something right because after receiving delivery of the prequel, Dead To Me, Transworld commissioned a further two Scott and Bailey books. So I best get cracking…
This week I was delighted to attend the presentation of the prize for the Jo Powell Memorial Writing Competition at Edge Hill University. Jo, a highly-respected creative writing tutor at the university died of a brain haemorrhage in May 2011 and the £1,000 prize was set up by family and friends to reward the best short crime story written by a student. I was one of the judges and the award went to 24-year-old James Harker with Gary A Love Story. James, originally from Weymouth, studied at Manchester Metropolitan University and is now working on the Young Writer Programme at the Everyman and Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool. He’s definitely a writer to watch. I’m a fan of competitions. My first novel was published as a result of entering one, in my case a prize organised by Commonword community publishers for the best North West debut. That was Sal Kilkenny’s debut and helped launch my writing career. It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that writing is a really tough field to break into. Finding an agent, getting a publishing deal, getting another one after that are all very difficult to achieve. Entering competitions can be a great way to discipline yourself so you finish work, meet deadlines and send stuff out. They provide an opportunity to make a mark and get recognition for your work and if you’re successful they’re a real boost to your confidence and your profile. There are lots of places to find out about writing competitions and a quick search online led me to these: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/short-stories/prizes/ https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writing-Magazine/ http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions
Recently I was invited into Radio Leeds to do a One on One programme with presenter Liz Green. This involved an hour’s in depth interview, talking about my life and work and choosing a number of pieces of music that had special importance or significance for me at particular times. A little like Desert Island Discs. I could only pick 10 and that was so difficult but I winnowed it down and I’ve listed them below – without the associated memories. What would your ten tunes be?
(On another very vaguely related note, I am sometimes asked if I write to music. The answer is a resounding NEVER! I would have to work hard to block out the sound if there was music playing, even if it was instrumental. And it would interfere with me writing dialogue which I frequently speak aloud, playing all the parts myself.)
1. Getting to Know You (The King and I: Deborah Kerr/Marni Nixon)
2. My Boy Lollipop – Millie
3. Twist and Shout – Beatles
4. Ride A White Swan – T Rex
5. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
6. No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley and the Wailers
7. White Man at Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
8. The Wedding – Abdullah Ibrahim
9. Warm and Tender Love – Percy Sledge
10. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
I think copyediting is really, rally important an one of the drawbacks of self-publishing (witch I have done) is if your not choosing to use a professional copy editor who can make all the right changes tot he manuscript. Theirs nothing worse than seeing speech marks in the wrong plaice or having too characters called Mark, or getting the daze mixed up. And a good copy editor will help you a void repetition to as well any contraindications. There the best, Sew if you are self-publishing try and fined someone who can help you with this. (I didn’t bother here: because this is just a short peace. Good look!?
Trio is a novel about adoption (and very different from my usual crime fiction titles). I wanted to write it because of my own experience as an adoptee and to reflect other stories I’d come across from people in the adoption triangle. Originally published in hardback by a small publisher it soon went out of print. Feedback on the book was very positive and as it was close to my heart I wanted to keep it in print and available to people. So I set myself up as a small press, got my partner Tim to design a cover and found a printer. I paid for a very small print run because I couldn’t afford more and storage was a problem anyway. For the next eight years I sold the book (out of boxes under my bed) via Amazon and to the wholesalers Gardners and Bertrams as well as at talks and events. Sales were in very modest numbers and due to my naivety and total lack of business acumen every single sale I made lost me money – I’d paid a high per unit cost for the books, postage was more than I’d imagined (and kept increasing) and Amazon took a large percentage of each sale. Then came ebooks. I paid someone to help me convert Trio and list it on Amazon for Kindle. I selected a low price (£1.53) but one where I’d make 70% royalties. And I watched in amazement as Trio sold many, many times more copies than it ever had done as a paperback. Last month the paperback version went out of print. If money, time and space were no object I’d keep it in print as a physical book in order to reach people who don’t have ebook readers but for now I’m not re-issuing it. And I’m still quite dumbfounded by the difference in the economics.
I heard an item on Radio 4 a while ago about enhanced eBooks. Andrew Motion described how a soundtrack had been created for his book Silver, the sequel to Treasure Island. From what I could gather it was background/ambient noise that was added – so if a scene was set in an inn, there’d be the sounds of people talking and tankards chinking or whatever, or a chapter in a storm would have fitting weather noises. I had contradictory responses (often the way with me – I blame the Libran brain architecture). On the one hand it was an amazing idea technically and artistically to add that aural texture, and on the other why would I want anyone ‘interfering’ with my reading by inserting some interpretation between the word and my imagination? A book demands so much of us as readers, we actively construct our view of the characters and action, the setting and atmosphere, filling in the spaces that a good writer gives us. (That’s why an adaptation of a book we love into film or TV often frustrates – because it can never be how we imagined it). However Andrew Motion argued studies show that enhanced eBooks actually improve the engagement of the reader and that they remember and retain even more of what they’ve read than someone reading a ‘normal’ book does. It’s probably not fair to say more until I’ve tried it for myself. But it makes me wonder what’s next. Smells? Texture? Taste?
A Human Perspective
The coast of Madagascar
Frills sweet lace
Across the cobalt
Of an ocean’s sway.
Daybreak over arced horizons
Light rims the curve
Rays split across the globe.
The world turns.
The thin blue shell of atmosphere
Bursts across the backbone of the Andes
Pours into lagoons
Paints atolls in coral
Warms the earth.
The world turns.
Storms flash across
The Malaspina glacier
Dance down to Manitoba
Skate over the ice
Leap above forests
Traverse waters bright then deep
Tumble around the vast Pacific.
The world turns.
The veined continent of Africa
Gold, green and brown.
The red-ribbed dunes of the Namib desert
Rocked on the cradle
Of steady blue waters.
The world turns.
The cosmonauts, the astronauts,
Have seen it all,
©Cath Staincliffe Originally published in No Earthly Reason (Crocus) 1989
I used to do some reviewing, initially for The Manchester Evening News and then for Tangled Web and Deadly Pleasures. It’s wonderful to have a stream of books arriving and to discover new authors as well as catching up with favourites. Recently pressure of work meant I had to give up reviews altogether and I must admit it was a real relief to read books without having one eye on what I was going to write about it. (Although I’d done this with non crime titles all along.) Anyway without the pressure of writing any actual reviews I’d like to recommend some books I’ve read recently to you. Genre and style vary but what they all have in common is great storytelling, vivid settings, fully rounded characters, quality prose. They each have an individuality, a unique flavour which means they linger in the mind. Enjoy.
In no particular order:
Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Shadow of the Rock – Thomas Mogford
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Year of the Tiger – Lisa Brackman
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
The Kings of Cool – Don Winslow
Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer
The Child Who – Simon Lelic
Ideally I prefer to find a title once the book is written and that’s the way I’ve approached it with my private eye and police series. Only at the end can I be sure what this particular book is about compared to the others and I’ve often found unexpected themes emerging in the process of writing.
I take a couple of weeks to mull over possible titles, write down any themes, topics, motifs from the novel along with anything about location, character or images that seem particularly strong. Then I browse books of phrase and fable, proverbs, the dictionary and thesaurus.
I like to use phrases when I can find them and titles that can be interpreted in more than one way. It helps if there’s something unusual or memorable in the title, to distinguish it from all the others on the shelves. Once I’ve created a short-list I gradually whittle it down until I have a favourite. It’s a bit like choosing a name for a baby: a list of alternatives informed by the nature of the creature once you know what it’s like. Sometimes I find the perfect title only to discover that another crime writer has beaten me to it (looking at you Mark Billingham).
More recently, with my stand-alone novels, I’ve had to come up with an idea for the theme of the book and its title at the start of the process – with an option to alter the name if I discover something better in the meantime. And stashed away I’ve a couple of titles that I love the sound of but have never (yet) suited my stories.