The Future of Kings

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The kings had been perfect for some time. Sixteen generations of careful crossbreeding had eliminated the buffoonery, the greed, the inappropriate jokes, the baldness, and of course the women. The perfect king (noble, good looking, able to wave for hours without tiring) had been formed two centuries ago, and cloned ever since.

But now the problem was the cloning process. The flawless unchanging DNA left each new king prone to disease. New bacterial strains, new fungal infections. With unaltering genetics, no clone could develop resistance. The royal line of perfect kings was starting to fail.

Editing Your Novel: Tips and Troubles

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Some harshly edited text

So, continuing my trek into self publishing (now to happen in just over two weeks, eek!) This week I want to talk about editing.

One huge drawback to self-publishing over trad-publishing, is that you don’t get an editor or proofreader to pick apart your book looking for flaws. It’s possible to pay for both, and this is the route I’d recommend, but not everyone can afford that. Plus it’s good to have a back up in case you make changes after you get your edited script back.

Editing – what is it?

Editing tends to focus on character and plot consistency, pacing, believability; and fundamental problems like that. I’ve read professionally edited books that are still majorly flawed, so it’s not foolproof.

How to Edit on the cheap

Friends – I have a few very talented writers as friends who are good at spotting flaws in my writing, so they always get first read. It can be difficult to hear criticism of a book you’ve poured your heart into, but no matter how angry or upset you feel, DON’T PASS THOSE EMOTIONS ON. Anyone giving you criticism is doing you a massive favour and is probably nervous about doing so. No matter how wrong you think they are, accept their comments with thanks.

Unfortunately for all writers, the best people to criticise your writing are those who don’t like it, so long as you can get more information out of them than ‘nah, hate it.’ When somebody loves what you write, they don’t notice all that’s wrong with it. If you can find a reader who doesn’t really like your writing, but is still prepared to read it and then tell you in detail everything that is wrong with it, cling on to them, buy them cake, they must be cherished.

Beta readers – I discovered these on Goodreads recently. Some are people who just like to read new novels and comment on them, others are picky, still others charge. They give feedback and will be able to spot flaws, but not to the professional level of an editor. I’ve not used them for this book, but will try them out next time around.

Writing a synopsis – unfortunately most writers don’t write their synopsis until after the book is finished. THIS IS UNWISE! If you want to see inconsistencies or areas where your story lags, then writing a synopsis is a great way to do it. If you can’t find a way to make your plot sound interesting, then maybe not enough is happening. If there are large sections that you don’t mention at all in a synopsis, it may be because the pace is too slow there. Writing a synopsis when you’re editing is also a great way to take some of the pressure off when you come to finally write it, which is a good idea, because it’s a truly awful experience.

Writing blurb – blurb consists of a few paragraphs that capture enough of your book to make it intriguing so the reader is hooked. Again, if you write the blurb while you are editing then it focuses your attention on what you want the book to be about and the atmosphere you want it to have. Writing something down is the best way to be clear about it. If you can’t write an enticing blurb, then there may be a flaw in your story.

Proofreading – what is it?

Proofreading is the final edit, where somebody who knows spelling and understands commas, goes through correcting flaws, and replacing missing words. I’ve seen a few writers ask if it really matters that a book has lots of spelling errors, and I’d say yes, it does. Grammar errors are like hiccups in your writing, they distract the reader and remind them that they are only reading a book, rather than living a life through the characters. They spoil the immersion.

How to Proofread on the Cheap

Reading Aloud – I don’t think this will work for everyone, but it works very well for me. For some reason, even when I’m not paying attention as I speak, if I read outloud, I spot missing words, dodgy grammar and repeated phrases.

Editing programs – Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I mention these two because they’re what I’ve used. They’re both problematic, but extremely useful. I’ll talk about them at greater length in a future blog.

And Finally…

For all you writers out there, what methods do you use to edit? What works and what doesn’t for you?

 

My Boyf

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It’s a night out with the girls, and it’s great fun as always. We all gush over how gorgeous we’re looking, and all the ups and downs since we last met up. I love that part of the evening, when we’re all on a high just seeing each other, pooling sympathy and praise, bathing in wine and bawdy laughter. It’s the next part I don’t like, once the alcohol starts to properly kick in, and the conversation gets nasty, bitchy. They each have a standard boyfriend, with the usual damning flaws. They seem to hate them, but all they want to do is get married to these same men that they hate.

“Oh my God, how can anyone’s feet smell so bad? Is it a disease? Should I get him a doctor?”

“What I don’t get is how he can just sit in filth and not notice, and then when I complain, he asks me what needs doing! Like I’m the only one with eyes!”

“Just once, just once I’d like to know what he thinks about something real, not football, not a film, but real life, real people.”

“And what about you Lisa, how is your man?” and they all turn to me with a sneer, as if they think I’m intimidated by their miserable lives. They don’t even get the stupidity of thinking that the men they spend hours slagging off are superior to my Martin.

“He’s fine. He’s great, actually,” I say, wanting to pay tribute to the man I love, while also wanting to move the conversation on as soon as possible. I know where this could end up, and I want it to stop.

“Well, I suppose you don’t have to worry about smelly feet!” says Jennifer. “And oh my God, that reminds me, do you know what John said to me last night?” The gossip moves on, and it’s a relief.

Opening up my front door that night, I get that snuggly feeling of home. Even as I push the door open, the hall lights come on, and Martin’s voice calls from the sitting room,

“Hi honey, you’re home!” He loves making that joke, every time, and I love him for it.

“Hiya!” I shout back, as I pull off my boots and hang up my coat.

“I’ll stick the kettle on, you could probably do with a nice cup of tea.” He says, and I hear the kettle click on in the kitchen.

“You know me so well,” I say, collapsing onto the sofa, as soothing music starts playing over the speakers. Awkwardly he sits down next to me, puts an arm around me as I snuggle up to his chest. He smells like cinnamon and plastic, that warm, comforting smell.

“What’s this? I like it.” Martin always knows what music I like, it’s part of his programming.

“Beethoven. Did you have a good night out?”

“Hmm, I guess. They were all bitching about their men, as usual.”

“Saaaad,” says Martin, he’s been programmed with eighties slang, it always makes me laugh.

“I don’t ever bitch about you though,” I say, “you’re perfect.”

Martin knows he doesn’t need to answer, instead, without moving, he switches on the TV, it’s that evening’s episode of Coronation Street I’d forgotten was on.

“Some easy entertainment, just what I need,” I say, hugging him tighter, a warmth glows from his stomach as the element heats up, and he hugs me tighter back. I don’t really need to tell him he’s perfect, he knows it, he was programmed to be.

I’m Back! And I Have News!

Hello fellow blogeezers, I’ve missed you! I haven’t been around for a few weeks because I’ve been up to something.

For the last three weeks I’ve been melting my brain trying to fathom the twisty-turny world of self-publishing and now I’m ready to tell you my secret:

On the 6th of June I’m going to release my new book

Peddling Doomsday.

It’s the story of a Deirdre who joins a doomsday cult led by the charismatic preacher, Myra. But once inside Deirdre learns that good and evil are not as clear cut as she’d hoped.

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Any excuse for a monkey. This one is inquisitive

I think at least a few of you have or will self-publish, so over the next few months, I’m going to be sharing everything I learn, the mistakes I’ve made (so you can avoid them) and what works and what doesn’t with promotion. It’s a scary process, but people on here and Goodreads and been extremely helpful, so at least we’re all in this together.

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Photo shows monkeys all in it together, so is entirely relevant

I’ll still be posting stories and thoughts, and I still welcome your comments.

If you want to sign up at the side for email updates, then I’ll be using emails to send out additional information that I don’t want to make completely public. Today’s email is going to have the cover reveal. If you do join, I won’t spam you and will keep emails relevant and interesting – if you don’t want to be sent self-publishing emails, then let me know on petra_jacob at outlook dot com and I can put you on a stories-only list.

 

 I’ve also got a lot of catching up to do with all your blogs, so please be patient.

And they lived happily ever after…

Sleeping Beauty wandered through the palace aimlessly, vodka in hand. Her prince would be back soon, he’d expect her to be dressed for dinner, her hair piled high with diamonds, her eyelashes curled, but she was already half-drunk and could not be arsed.

“Not that he ever really looks at me anymore,” she muttered to herself, taking a mouthful of her drink and letting out a bitter sigh, “not while I’m awake anyway.” His fetishes no longer disturbed her, they were just one more irritation out of many.

She wandered through the grand hall, kicking off her shoes and shimmying around the floor. It was years since she had properly danced, and the lack of music was no barrier, she could feel a song in her skin, waiting to break out. She had spent a hundred years frozen still, and now three more bored stiff. She knew there were lives out there ready to be lived, new princes, new challenges, new mythical beasts to ride.

“Whatever happened to happy ever after?” she asked to the elaborate painted ceiling as she spun around the hall in her best approximation of a pirouette. She wondered if it was possible to hire herself a wicked witch, and made a mental note to google it later.

Graffiti, art, and the imprint of Gen X

A delightful blog about the artist Keith Haring from canyondreaming, I hope you all enjoy it.

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It will be hard not to make this post too personal, but I’ll try.  Keith Haring was an inspiring artist at a time when graffiti was still considered an eyesore and not an art form, a time that I have a lot of nostalgia for. I’m guessing that I might well have run into Keith Haring either on a dance floor (gay clubs were the only ones to play even remotely good dance music in the early 80s, and as Cameo says “we don’t have the time for psychological romance”) or in a mosh pit, and those desperate and proud moments were key formative times for a young suburban kid who wanted to know what all the fuss was about when it came to the energy of the big city and the attitude of contemporary art. That said, I visited Haring’s exhibit (along with Paolo Buggiani‘s work) in Firenze…

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Short Story: 1000 Words

Denton could tie sixteen different types of knot and write five different alphabets. He knew the names of every country in the world and how to get from any tube station to any other, even though he had never been to London. He found this knowledge reassuring and periodically checked that he still knew it all. However, none of this helped him understand people. No matter that he could name each part of the brain; people were still a mess of unknowable, indefinable things. He suspected that other people had been given some kind of manual that explained everything – why sofas were important, when to speak, what facial expressions to wear – and because he didn’t have it, he was stumped, permanently. When he was with other people he always wore bewildered expression, hoping this would explain his situation. He wasn’t sure this worked though, because people were often angry with him.

Then, six months ago, Denton decided he’d had enough. He decided to take control. He was very fond of control, it was one of the reasons he was studying for a programming degree. After deciding fourteen separate times to take control, he had finally figured out how.

First, he worked to recreate the secret manual that he was sure everybody but him had access to. This required extensive research. With subtle questions to tutors and fellow students, with googling and searches to the dark web, the information had mounted up. He collated, cross referenced and edited each document, file and super-file. Now for phase two: only using one thousand words.

During his research into normal people and the curious stuff they do, he had read that most people only use a thousand words when speaking. They might know many more words, but normal conversation didn’t require them. As an experiment, Denton had spent a day with a Dictaphone keeping track of exactly how many words he used, and found it to be well over three thousand. He suspected that this excessive use of vocabulary might be why people thought he was strange, it was, at least a clue as to his oddness. So he had devised a list of an essential thousand words, and today would be the day when he restricted himself to using only those words. He had meticulously planned his wardrobe and behaviour to keep conversations on cue.

He heard a scuffling from outside his door and then,

“Denton!” he recognised the voice of his friend Steve. Denton knew that Steve would be standing with his feet flat on the floor and a shoulder’s width apart, that way he would be less likely to fall over when someone pushed him. Steve had been pushed a lot in his life.

“Denton, I’ve found a frog!”

The problem with a thousand-word limit, as far as Denton could see, was that you couldn’t know which situations would occur in any given day. He believed that for one day he could avoid describing the implosion of nebulae, or the function of a radio transmitter. He could avoid all references to the mouth parts of insects and the names of stones in archways. It would make conversation a little mundane, but he liked the challenge of repeating the same ideas over and over, like normal people.

When he had written out his thousand words, he had allowed for each basic everyday situation that he could think of – cancelled lectures, cold winds and earache, that the janitor was really a zombie; all very simple topics requiring just basic verbs and nouns. But he hadn’t thought to include the word frog. Still, Steve was a sensitive soul and Denton didn’t want to let him down. He shuffled from his bed and opened the door.

“Nice watch,” he said when he opened the door, then panicked. Steve stood holding the frog with two hands, two fingers spread slightly to let its head poke through.

“Frog,” he explained proudly, but Denton wasn’t listening, he was still panicking. He had spent several days outlining the plans for his thousand words. For example, he had decided that different verb endings didn’t fundamentally change the word – so he could count ‘speak’ and ‘speaks’ as one word. He had shaved a number of words out of his vocabulary, by choosing only one adjective, where normally several would be used – such as ‘red’ instead of ‘vermillion’, ‘pink’, ‘burgundy’. After all, many people couldn’t seem to tell the difference between those colours anyway. However, he had totally forgotten about Homonyms, words like ‘watch’, for example. He had actually included that word so that he could say “Can you watch my bag?” or “Did you watch telly last night?” but in his desperation to avoid conversations about a frog, he had used it in a different context. Was that ok? Or had he failed already? Not for the first time, he wished that social studies were published in the paper with proper methodology.

“I’m going to keep it,” said Steve, holding up the frog.

“Cool,” replied Denton.

“As a pet,” said Steve.

“Cool,” said Denton.

Maybe he could pass the whole day saying ‘cool’, other people managed it.

They walked to the canteen, across the paving, all the while Steve chatted to his frog and Denton tried to stay quiet.

They had reached the canteen doors where two girls from his year stood sharing a cigarette.

“Hi Denton,” said Su, who had dark eyes and a bright smile.

“Alright.”

“Why are you wearing your dressing gown?” she asked.

“Eccentricity,” replied Denton, glad the conversation was going to plan.

“Oooh, a frog,” said Katie who had red hair and a matching birthmark across her neck.

“Yes, I found it in the field. I’m going to keep it in the sink,” said Steve.

“Do you like frogs, Denton?”  asked Su.

“Sure.”

“What type of frog is it?” asked Su, with great effort of will, Denton kept his knowledge inside, and said,

“Don’t know.”

“You’re very monosyllabic today,” Su narrowed her dark eyes and folded her arms.

“I said ‘eccentricity’,” said Denton puzzled, wondering if people would think him stranger now that he was saying less.

“Eccentricity,” said Katie, rolling the word around her mouth like a boiled sweet.

“That’s a very good word, I don’t use it enough.” Su added brightly,

“You know, I read in the paper today that the average person speaks only three thousand different words in a day.”

“What?” exclaimed Denton.

“Yeh, apparently we all just keep repeating the same three thousand over and over. Except for Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare was an odious buffoon!” said Denton happily, as Su laughed. Denton decided today was going to be delightful.

Tiny Fiction: The Library Rebel

He slammed down the book and relished the ripples of shock and irritation as they echoed around the library.

“Sorry, so sorry,” he said, meekly, his head held low and so that his floppy fringe hid his small grin. The room was fusty, with dust collecting on every surface, weighing people down. They’d be slow to react, he’d get to enjoy every frown and tut as it unfolded around him. He lifted the book high a second time.

Once again, he was the master of chaos.