Book Recommendations? “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes. AWESOME READ!

I Am Pilgrim - CoverIf you love to read then do yourself a favour and get a copy of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. If you love to write, then do yourself a favour and get a copy of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes! It’s not a literary, artsy (you’re an idiot if you don’t understand) type of book. It’s just a damn good read. As book recommendations go, that’s the highest praise I can ever give.

Here’s why (no spoilers):

ONE: It opens in first person with a character you’re going to like. He’s not good, not bad, not perfect, sufficiently flawed but also quiet and self-possessed with knowledge of a world the Average Joe doesn’t have.

TWO: The story almost loses you (or it did me) when it went off on what appeared to be a wild and crazy tangent of back-story. But because you like the character so much, you stick with it.

THREE: The story jumps around a bit to the point that you might lose track of time, but that’s OK because the character is kind of fun to be around (in a twisted sort of distant way).

FOUR: Hayes goes into glorious detail about each character to the degree that even the smallest character is memorable. You might not remember the name, but you’ll have enough of a mental image that you’ll know who they are when they come up again later.

FIVE: The bad guy isn’t all bad because you know why he’s doing what he’s doing. And when you know why someone behaves in a certain way, even if it’s positively evil, there’s still space for sympathy.

SIX: Although the story is global, the focus is all human.

SEVEN: The story isn’t overwhelmed by history and geographical data. There’s just enough to keep it believable. The human story takes precedent over facts and figures.

EIGHT: The pace is balanced and mellow and you don’t feel like you’re having a coronary leaping from page to page.

NINE: Every story line is tied up at the end. Every single one. Not even the small characters get left behind. Very cool.

TEN: The author doesn’t tie himself in knots to show you how clever he is, he just tells a damn good story.

So, for a reader, very cool book. You’ll love it. For a writer, there’s a common theme here.

As my brother, Adrian Konstant, the screenwriter says: “It’s important to like the location, but you have to LOVE the character”.

This book, for me, is a bit of a perfect storm. I really like the locations, the plotting is masterful, but I LOVE the characters.

The way I see it, as a writer, this is what you need:

– You need to know your characters. Here are 108 character development questions. When you’re bored of that…
– Write short stories around your characters. You’ll be amazed at what you find out about them.
– And after all that, make sure you’ve got yourself a literary soul mate – the characters and story-world that is uniquely yours.

Now go play.

Ideas, ideas and glorious inspiration!

hMy bet is you’re not just a writer. You’re also an employee, a parent, a cleaner-upper and a dozen other things, which doesn’t leave much space for inspiration because you’re too busy fussing about what keeps money in the bank, your job secure, your kids safe, your dogs fed, your grass short, your garage clear… you get the picture. In our normal lives, there’s very little time for inspiration because we’re too busy dealing with the mundane. So if you’re starved of ideas, take a moment to look at what’s going on in your head.

Do yourself a favour… Take a moment to sit down with no distractions (I know, you might have to go to the toilet to do this – and even then, there’s no guarantee) and write down everything you THINK about every day. Not the stuff you do, but what you THINK about. What fills your head? What do you plan, worry about, fret over? Here are a few examples:

–     When to walk the dogs
–     Sorting food for animals and humans in the house.
–     Dinners for the next week
–     Mail
–     Finances
–     Space
–     Grass cutting and lack of it
–     Cleaning the car
–     Sorting the house, garage, office
–     The boss or your staff
–     The job, the need to get one or change one
–     Kids uniforms
–     Issues at school
And the list goes on forever…

Now, have a look at that list and be REAL about when you actually DO this stuff and how often it needs to happen.

–     Walk the dogs? Once a day. Do you really need to think about it?
–     Feed the animals and the people in the house? Plan a menu, write it down and move on.
–     Kids to school? Morning.
–     Household admin? Once a week.
–     Cut the grass? Saturday morning. Again, do you really need to think about it?

You get my drift?

We might only need to do something once a day or once a week, but we think about it ALL THE TIME!

Instead of thinking about characters, story lines or learning something new and inspiring, we’re filling our heads with administrivia.

Instead of smelling the dish we’re preparing so we can let our characters do the same in the next book/short story, we’re thinking about a grocery list!

Ideas and inspiration are like orchids in a hailstorm. If all you do is rain hell down on them, they’ll have no space to grow.

So monitor your thoughts. When you find yourself fretting, pondering, stressing or re-hashing routine stuff, say instead: “Thanks, got that, I’ll deal with it when I need to. Now for something more interesting…”

Have fun today folks. Give your head some space and inspiration a chance.

The power of a great stew while waiting for feedback on your novel

Get feedback on your novel.OK! That’s it! You’ve polished your first draft as much as you can and it’s morphed from what once resembled the literary equivalent of roadkill to something someone might actually want to play with. You’re finally ready for feedback on your novel. Not from professionals, but from people who know a good story when they see it and love you enough to tell you the TRUTH.

So you package it up, send it off and celebrate with chocolate cake, getting stoned, chilled or merely mellow. However, once the celebrations are over, your mind has cleared and returns to your novel, you have some choices to make…

ONE: You can pace the room and fret about what the people reading your precious book are thinking. Are they reading it right now? Are they hating it and trying to think of a way to give you bad news?

TWO: You can re-read it yourself and edit it leaving your kind readers with version 2 while you work on version 3.

THREE: You can hang your boots, hat, belt and underpants on a tree and let it stew!

You’ve worked hard, you’ve got the book the best you can at this point. Doing any more work on it is pointless because you’re too close. All you see are the bits you like, not the overall story – warts, old bubblegum and all.

So let it go and let it stew, because when you hand your work over to someone else to review, things happen…

ONE: Your perspective changes. When you get your book back, you’ll see your characters and their stories differently. You’ll notice more.

TWO: Different strengths and weakness in your story will show themselves because you’ll have stopped focusing on the bits you like most.

THREE: You’ll be more objective. Once you’ve had a good break from it, faults in the writing won’t seem so personal. The distance will have allowed you to grow a bit of skin.

Bottom line, hand your book over and ignore it. Walk away, don’t look at it, go on holiday, write short stories, live outside your writing.

Like any great stew, a book looks, tastes and smells better after it’s sat around for a while.

Have fun today

Death in fiction! If your writing has a high body count, you’ll love this!

Death in fiction: Read this if your writing has a high body count.If your story lines tend towards a high body count, here’s a book you’ll really enjoy! It’s called “Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach and is a wonderful resource for anyone who dallies with death in fiction!

It covers (among other things…) what plastic surgeons practice on, the life cycle of a dead body (maggots included), human decay in all its gory (not a typo) and the story bodies tell.

For instance, did you know:

ONE:  When a head is cut off so plastic surgeons can practice their crafts on it, the decapitation takes place directly below the chin. Why? So someone else can make use of the neck.

TWO: Nineteenth-century operating theatres had more to do with instruction than saving lives and were done without any anaethesia. The first time ether was used was 1846.

THREE: Some medical training schools use anesthetized dogs to practice tracheal intubations and catheterisations.

FOUR: There is a facility situated on a Knoxville hillside that is dedicated to the study of human decay. If you get to visit it, you’ll find bodies stretched out on the lawn in various state of dress, covered in everything from plastic to concrete, left in the shade, left in the sun… all to determine how different conditions impact decay.

FIVE: The bit of us that maggots love most is fat.

SIX: As a body decays, it dissolves into the ground. By analyzing chemicals in soil investigators will be able to tell if the body has been moved or if it decayed there.

SEVEN: Dogs trained to locate human remains can pinpoint body parts at the bottom of a lake from the fats and gasses that float up as the flesh rots.

So if people die in your books and you’re interested in what happens to them in the minutes, hours, months and years after their last breath, then get this book and have a read.

It’s excellently written, hugely entertaining (despite the subject matter) and full of some very awesome content.

Enjoy! And watch out for buses…

Why writers need to read “Conversation” by Theodore Zeldin

Conversation by Theodore ZeldinWhat if dialogue was more than just a vehicle to move your story forward? What if your dialogue was a genuine conversation between your characters –  something that changed them, something that made them think, something that woke them up or broke them down, opened their horizons or led to their demise. 

Theodore Zeldin’s Conversations is a little book that explores the power of  a good conversation. It includes conversations of love, family and where we work. It also considers what technology is doing to our conversations and what happens when conversations cause the meeting of minds. The book was first published in 1998 so doesn’t include our current conversation tools like social media (have to wonder what Mr. Zeldin will make of that).

So when you’re writing dialogue think conversation instead.

If it helps, think about the people you relish meeting over an extended cappuccino. What kind of conversations do you have with these people? How do they make you think? What about you, do they change? Do they force you to open your mind or do they make you want to stand up and fight? Do you feel comfortable because you’re covering old, easy and familiar ground or do you feel your reality shift before your coffee is half way cooled? What bits of you freak out a little when they make their point?

Now think about the people you might like, but the thought of an extended train journey with them fills you with dread because you know exactly what the conversation is going to be about. These conversations are often one-sided. The people you have them with don’t listen, they don’t think, they’re repetitive, they’re dull, they’re predictable. You know that the conversation you have with them today will be the same one you’ll have with them next year.

So what kind of conversations do your characters have? Do they move you? Will they move your reader? Or is dialogue in your book just that… words exchanged to more a story forward, but not actually change hearts and minds.

Just a thought really. Have a look at Zeldin’s book and take a minute to consider conversations.

Happy writing today