For you to read

I’d like to tell you why I’m so excited by An Other’s Look that I can override my natural awkwardness and ask people to help me; why I am willing to thump the drum and rattle the cup and toot the whistle for pledges.

An Other’s Look is my second novel and builds on all that I thought I had learned when writing The Wrong Story. In this book I wanted to write about journeys and change and transitions, and I wanted to exorcise a few personal demons. I wanted the writing (and the reading) to be fun and I also had some unfinished business with three of the characters from The Wrong Story – Germaine, Tom and Gerard.

But two months into its writing I realised I hadn’t learned as much as I thought, and I had to go back to basics – and I mean basics: what the hell is a story anyway?  I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn’t know how I’d get there. As part of this reboot I thought I’d just let my characters talk and butt out while they did so. I’d let them chat to each other while I tried to figure out what to do.

But what happened was that their dialogue and interactions took over and drove the story forwards faster than I could type it. I’d found a working method that just flew. What emerged six months later was a story with plot lines that all converge on a lonely and isolated Spanish peninsula town called Las Sombras, in north-west Spain.

Hence the thumping and rattling and tooting. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters – the damaged academic, Germaine Kiecke;  the bereaved artist Tom Hannah and his new young muse, Alta; the Machiavellian Gerard Borkmann; the ageing voice-over artist Charles Cubberley, his Belgian wife Margot and his fellow actor and nemesis, Roger Pendleton; the sinister hotelier Rodolfo whose wife and father-in-law have both gone missing; his avenging sister-in-law, Luisa, and his wan, ghost-like son, Claudio. I even want you to meet the characters in Germaine’s parallel, augmented reality world of the Happy Family game.

After all, I wrote it for you to read.

(An Other’s Look is currently being crowdfunded by Unbound Books. You can pre-order a copy and support its publication by following this link.)

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Frome FM (96.6FM)

If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.

I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!

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The Wrong Story Blog Book Tour

The Wrong Story, is going on a blog book tour. Here’s the poster with its itinerary. I’ve asked it to send postcards. Do you think I should have a tour T-shirt made up?

The Wrong Story Blog Tour Poster

By the way, if you want to help its sibling to get out there and join it, there’s still time to pledge for An Other’s Look at https://unbound.com/books/an-others-look/

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An Other’s Look – The Journey So Far

If you’ve already seen this video on FaceBook and Twitter then I do apologise, but I like it so much I thought I’d share it with you.

https://youtu.be/3Z0YwYNB0HA

Join the journey.

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Exploring the real world… swimming

(James writes a monthly column for The Gudgeon. Each month, the previous month’s article is archived.)

March, 2018

It’s been a very good six months since Sally and I moved to Bradford on Avon. We love the cheesemonger and the bookmonger and all the beermongers. We’ve been for walks, met friends and entertained visitors. But most of the time it has been autumn and winter, the seasons when frankly my body tries to hibernate. I move less and eat more – a lot more. There’s just something about the nights drawing in that brings out the biscuits.

However, now that springtime is more than just a rumour I’m in the mood to shift some timber. So much so, that I’m contemplating regular exercise – and not just a daily stroll to the newspapermonger either. I mean actual exertion.

But what exercise? I’m not a natural runner – I shuffle along like a stiff-legged zombie – and I don’t want to pay for a gym when there are so many tow-paths and riverbanks and woodland trails to explore, and although I like cycling it’s not in the Lycra, time-trial kind of way.

And then, while leafing through the Gudgeon, I was reminded that BoA has a swimming pool. I love swimming. I used to go all the time until about three years ago when I stopped and took up lounging around in the house instead. But in my mind I have always been someone who swims regularly. For me, a well-run swimming pool is like a well-run library, a social necessity. And BoA has both. What was I waiting for? I grabbed my towel and trunks and hurried out.

Once the librarian had redirected me, I arrived at the swimming pool and was shown around by a friendly and helpful pool attendant. There is a Main Pool and a Teaching Pool. The Main Pool is 25 metres long, has a proper deep end, and a lifeguard. There is also a sauna. This was going to be great. My plan was to knock off a quick 40 lengths, bound lightly to the sauna and then cartwheel my way home. In my imagination I was already cleaving through the water like a shark.

However, three years is a long time out of the water.

First of all, I got in at the wrong end, the deep end – the very deep end.  So there was more thrashing my way to the surface than I had envisaged. And once I was afloat and able to launch myself in the right direction, I remembered that 25 metres can feel longer than it looks. About a mile. I don’t know how long I took to reach the shallow end but it was definitely darker outside than when I arrived.

Not that such things matter. Swimming is a democratic pastime. Whether you are the gasping, pop-eyed piece of driftwood that I had become; or a hazard to shipping who veers diagonally across the pool on your back; or a person who glides side by side with a friend and chats with effortless ease as if relaxing on a sofa; or a splash-machine who attacks the crawl like you’re burying a bone; or a torpedo in the fast lane who really does cleave through the water like a shark; the pool is there for everyone.

After half an hour, I hauled myself up the ladder and tottered back to the changing room. I felt inspired. So inspired that I went back to reception and signed up for a year. What a great place to live. I went home, hung out my towel and… tucked into a plate of biscuits.

There are still a few more days before springtime.

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A day in the life of a creative writer

IMG_8127(The Gudgeon runs a monthly feature called ‘A Day In The Life…‘ James had contacted them to ask if they would review The Wrong Story. This led to them running A Day In The Life Of A Creative Writer which was first featured in their February 2018 edition.)

Days are different depending on where I am in the writing process. I’m fortunate that currently I can write full-time without distraction, and the past year has been all about creating new work – a second novel, some short stories and two radio plays.

7am (ish). I try to get going around seven o’clock but it’s an increasing struggle. I used to bound out of bed but now I emerge bleary-eyed and some way down the evolutionary scale. Even so, the first thing I do is reach for my phone and check my email.

8am. By the time I’ve had a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge I’ve evolved again. Usually around this time I say goodbye to my partner, Sally, who sets off to do a real job. I write my daily journal and then check my social media accounts. Social media is an important part of my working life, providing direct channels to readers, writers, editors, publishers and booksellers. I also catch up with the news on the Guardian app (and check The Gudgeon for local events, of course).

9am. Procrastination over, I chain myself to the desk and start work. I write fast and have a minimum prose target of 800 words a day. I usually average around 1200 and on a good day I can hit 2000. Drama is different. Here I let the dialogue dictate the pace and hope that there are no awkward silences.

It’s not all creative work during this time. I also provide structural editing and mentoring for other writers, and prepare and present material for writers’ workshops. My first book, The Wrong Story, was published by Unbound Books last year and I’ve just submitted my second novel, An Other’s Look. As they are a crowdfunding publisher, part of the coming months will be taken up with seeking patrons and pledgers to support its publication. 

1pm. I break for lunch (fruit and yoghurt blended into a smoothie), and then I play my ukulele (no giggling.) The local cats seem distressed at this time and dogs howl, but I’m doing my grades so things should calm down.

2pm. I spend a lot of my time in imaginary worlds so it’s good to join the real thing, and I like to get out of the house for at least some of the day. Also, my lifestyle is sedentary and I mustn’t forget how to move. I shop locally for our evening meal and then either swim, walk or cycle. I also try to pop into the local library and the excellent Ex-Libris bookshop (which stock my book, hem).

4pm

I work for another three hours editing the morning’s output and wondering why I wrote such gibberish in the first place, and then, before I know it …

7pm. … it’s evening and the door slams and Sally is home. If we’re not going out it’s time to cook, eat, catch up with the family news, and then read and/or binge-watch box sets. My feeble excuse for passively consuming all this entertainment is that I have to keep up with what other writers are doing. At some point I’ll also spend a few minutes skim-reading the days work.

11pm (ish). I try not to look at a screen before going to sleep and so I continue reading or I do a crossword for half an hour before lights out. Then I think about the story I’m writing and consider what new scenes I might create in the morning.

It’s a precarious way of making a living but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

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Don’t hand out leaflets, Stephen. I’ll do it.

My next few months are now defined – crowdfunding my new novel, An Other’s Look, which is going to be published by Unbound. The site has gone live and here it is!

I spent all last year writing it, following the Stephen King model: I wrote the first draft as fast as I could, kept it hidden and let it brew. Only after the second draft was complete did I let it out for peer review. And then a third draft before submitting it. (No doubt there will be a few more when the editors get their hands on it.) It worked. I think. Well, I’ll find out

Sager minds than mine who have been through this crowdfunding process more than once advise me that it can be even tougher the second time around. I didn’t think that was possible.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 12.02.06

An Other’s Look leaflet

I hope I’ve learned something since I worked with Unbound on The Wrong Story. I’ve prepared my leaflets ahead of time and I’m looking forward to the windy, rainy days when I can stand on street corners handing them out. Not sure Stephen King does that, but you never know. Actually, I hope he doesn’t because he should be at home in the warm writing more novels. If he wants any leaflets handing out, I’ll do it.

Anyway, returning to topic, we’ve enhanced the reward levels so that now, pledging is as much about pre-ordering one or more paperback copies as supporting the novel’s publication. There will also be bundle options, book club rewards and aspiring writer’s workshops on the reward list.

I’ve improved the video too by keeping my face out of it for as much as possible. That was a definite plus. Of course, I show up in it towards the end – it would be rude not to, but by that time I hope the message has come across and people aren’t too distracted by what appears to be me looking into a spoon. Stephen King n

Feedback, as ever, warmly received.

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