Welcome to the blog

Greetings, I am Tom…of the North.

What?  My name is Tom and I live in the north, I had to call it something.

If someone had have asked me a couple of years ago what a blog was, I’d have been able to give only a general wide ranging response.  Whilst I hadn’t actively avoided them, I certainly hadn’t made any serious effort to read one either.  So, to get from there, to the point of having created one with a serious intent to maintain it is quite the turnaround.

So why have I now created one?

Well there are all sorts of answers to that question.  To start with it’s a good way to practice my writing and (hopefully) get good feedback on it.  It’s also a good way to connect with other writers or indeed anyone interested in the writing process, whether you’re published or not I’m interested to hear what you have to say.  Hopefully I can also help unpublished authors avoid many of the traps and pitfalls I have encountered on my writing journey.

In that vein, I shall be posting about the things that inspire me to write what I write, experiences in publishing my book and the dreaded (for me at least) process of promoting it.  I’ll cover the things that help me when writing, from the relaxed conditions in which I write, to the music I listen to while I write (anyone else have a writing playlist?).

You will no doubt be unsurprised to hear I have plenty of other interests besides writing.  From movies, to video/board/table-top games, football (soccer), the emotive subject of politics and all sorts of other things besides.  Overall, I think we’re going to have plenty to discuss.

Finally, I welcome any comments you may have; however, I do ask that you be nice and respect other people’s opinions.  So basically, just be cool to one another.

Peace out and have a great day.

World Building – Part 2

So, I’ve written about this before, here to be precise.  Last time I started with the words, world building is hard.

In retrospect this was inaccurate, it isn’t hard, it’s challenging.  There’s whole world of difference between the two of those, because as it turns out I quite enjoy world building, it’s exceedingly rewarding.  I never knew deciding on how the passage of time works and working on religions could be so interesting, but then seeing it leads to whole load of reading I should have known really.

I think the problem was that I didn’t totally have the themes of the world set in my head, I knew what they were, they just weren’t organised.  After some organisation, I have managed to get some key things sorted.  I have now decided that time will pass at the same rate as the real world and have worked out that the city the first story is set in will be an atheist state.  Next, I need to address language, does everyone speak the same language or will that differ from one nation to the other?  If they do speak different then how am I going to represent this since I only know my mother tongue?

At one time, I might have considered this too daunting a challenge to tackle and looked for an easy way out.  These days I can’t wait to take the challenge on.

Exciting times my friends.

Strong Characters

You’ll have to forgive me if I waffle a little in this one folks.  I couldn’t seem to keep it as short as I wanted it and I’ve always been a firm believer in the philosophy that something is finished when it’s finished.  Though I am assured that rather than it waffling, it’s more conversational.  I’ll let you be the judge.

What makes a strong character in a story?

This is not an easy question to answer.  Ask ten different people that very question and you would likely get ten different responses, it is a question that has plagued storytellers for many a year now; it is has also yet to be answered definitively.  I ask this question as while writing my own stories I always try to have a diverse cast of characters, without making it seem like tokenism; whether I have succeeded I suppose is for other people to judge.

I think diversity in story telling is important, I think people enjoy fiction more if there is something or someone they can relate to.  Whether that be a group or a person, stories are better when there is something for the reader to connect to.  Whilst this can just as easily be an event, maybe something they have experienced in their own lives, I feel relatable characters are better.  Maybe I’m projecting my own preferences here, but I always enjoy stories more when there are characters around that I can connect with and/or root for.

The difficulty for writers however is how to write said characters, how to include them in a meaningful way that adds to the experience of the reader.  It is not simply enough to include a woman include a woman in a story, expecting women to relate to this character or indeed include a person from any under/poorly represented group and expecting them to relate to them because they share a gender or race with them.  I am a white man, yet that doesn’t mean that I automatically relate to all white men in stories because of that.  It’s about strength of character, and that brings me back to my initial question.

What makes a strong character in a story?

I write in the fantasy genre and should I ever change my genre, any future stories will likely be action oriented.  The reason for this aren’t so important as the reason I mention it.  There is often (in my opinion) a common misconception that because a character is in a story that would if the writer chose, allow them to be a fighter, that this is what makes them strong.  This is to misunderstand how we measure character, do we feel that a person is strong because of their physical capabilities, their ability fight?

If your answer is yes, I would advise you to take a long hard look at yourself.

Strength of character comes from all sorts of things.  For example, I feel a person’s sense of morality is a cornerstone of their character, do they have a sense of justice and fair play.  How do they treat people?  A person’s sense of decency and compassion is important in the character of any person.  What about their strength of conviction?  One could argue that a person’s willingness to stand up for what they believe in, to bring naysayers to their side is important.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  What’s important to people in life is important to them in fiction.  Characters in stories can be role models for people, they can be sources of inspiration or cautionary tales, templates for the best and worst in people.  One of the worst things a writer can do is write boring and bland characters, stereotyped two dimensional bores that make you want to gouge your eyes before you read any more of their ‘adventures’.

Am I being a little harsh here?  Maybe, but you get my point.

I suppose really what this blog is about is representation, representation of people from all walks of life.  Men and women, people from under represented ethnic groups or people with disabilities.  Perhaps your hero is homosexual.  Perhaps one of the characters is transgender.  On and on the possibilities are endless, but it’s not just about box ticking.  One of the most overused tropes in fiction is the concept of a damsel in distress, a flaky woman in need of being rescued by the plucky hero of the story.

Unless your story is specifically built so that one or more of these groups is barred from consideration then why can’t your characters be neutral.  A hero that could be a woman as well as a man, be from an ethnic minority group or any of the other groups I mentioned earlier.  Have them be strong, not just because they are physically strong, but strong in any way you can think of.  Strong in the ways that matter to you, there’ll be someone out there who thinks the same as you.  Besides, you never know what you might find out in the research process.

So, for the record, I am not planning to go on a kill crazy rampage with a Warhammer.  I just needed to read about them for my book.

Character Development

Is it best to create bespoke and ready to go characters or should they grow organically?

This is a question I have asked myself often.  When writing my characters, I try to get into their heads, understand their motivations, what drives them on etc…   This is something I’ve always found quite easy, I’m the sort of person that when playing role play games on consoles, such as the Elder Scrolls games, I come up with a bit of background beyond what the game dictates.  It’s not something that I have ever found difficult and it helps me to come up with what are (I hope) believable characters, with believable motivations and the like.

This has a downside however.

Sometime last year, I was writing a short story set in the fantasy world I have created for the Brogan series, it was based around a character that is briefly in the first book.  As I am intending to have the character feature a bit more I wanted to write a prequel story, something to give him a bit of background and expand on his character.  I had always intended for him to feature a little more in later books, just not so much in the second book.  But what I wrote was intense, it really put me through the wringer and I had to take a little break before getting back into my writing.

I prefer to let characters grow organically, let circumstance dictate their development, decide on the spare of the moment what I think is most in character.  However sometimes a character just needs to be created from scratch, you don’t have time to develop them organically because they’re not going to be around long enough.  It could be because they are only required to serve a purpose, they do their thing and either move on or die.  As tempting as it is to keep every character around, some are just supporting characters and nothing more, you can’t keep them all.

But then, every now and then a character comes along, you’re not intending on them to be in it as much as they end up being.  It could be that they fill a hole in the story that you previously hadn’t realised was there.  These are the characters that grow organically, they create themselves, form their own motivations and you end developing their characters on the fly.  There is of course the tragic sort of character, the kind of character that you intend to go onto great things and have all sorts of plans.  Then you change a bunch of things for the benefit of the wider narrative and suddenly, they’re no longer relevant, then you need to work out what to do with them.

It’s a bit of Gladiator moment, thumbs up they live and fade into obscurity, thumbs down they die.  Either way their use the story is over and even if they do live, they seldom feature as the story progresses.  It’s a shame as well, some of those characters were good, I loved them; they just didn’t serve a purpose anymore.

Okay, so I waffled a bit there.  But it was my first major blog post in a while so you’ll have to forgive me on that score.  As usual, feel free to comment below if you have questions, critique or anything in general really.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

Killer Disorganisation

I’ve been finding it difficult find topics to write about of late.

Now I know what you’re thinking, writer’s block again?  Well, no actually.  The problem is that I’ve got all sorts of things to write about, I’m just not sure whether I’ve written about them before.  Now this isn’t necessarily a problem if you have something new to write about on a given subject, but I can’t even remember whether that’s the case.  Over the last nine months I’ve written somewhere in the region of forty articles on a wide variety of subjects and I’m having some trouble recalling them all.

This isn’t an inspiration problem, so much as it is an organisational problem.

Now you’re saying, ‘But Tom, you wrote about crappy organisation and said you were going to change.’  Oh, have I?  Thanks, I’ll add that to the list so as I don’t write about it again.

Anyhoo, I’m just posting to say I’m organising my stuff and I’ll get back to posting genuine content when I know what I can post without repeating myself.  So, take heed folks, if you don’t organise yourself you’ll end up in a situation like I’m in.

Boom!  I wrote an advisory piece.  I’m getting quite good at this blogging lark.

Audio Books

I like to read.

Not endlessly, I know people who never stop reading, they’ve always got a book on the go and the thought of having nothing to read gives them palpitations.  I’m more of a binge reader, I’ve discussed this before so I’ll not linger on this subject.

The point of this blog post is this, I recently discovered audio books.  Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that audio books have been around for years and I can’t have been unaware of their existence until now.  Well you would be right, I knew of them, I just never really had the drive to listen to one until recently.  So, in what was a somewhat spontaneous move, I decided to sign up on Audible and take in my first audio book.

But what audio book should I read was the question?

I gave this a great deal of thought.  Should I go for something contemporary, fantasy fiction or maybe something a little older, indeed a classic.  Firstly, with it having recently been the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book I considered that.  Then there was a couple of medieval fiction books and fantasy books, the names of which escape me right now.  My final option was something I have tried to read before but never managed to make serious headway into, Sherlock Holmes.

I decided on the latter, mainly because it was the definitive collection, which weighed in at seventy-one hours long and was narrated by Stephen Fry to boot.  I am currently listening to A Study in Scarlet and must admit, I’m jolly well enjoying it.

The point of all this?

If you have ever wanted to take in a story but have struggled to digest the book, then I would recommend an audio book.  For people such as I who don’t have the greatest attention span, a good audio book, well narrated may well be the answer to your literary woes.

Peace out folks, and have a lovely day.

Practice Makes Perfect

Writing, much like any other creative pursuit is a matter of practice.  The more you write the better you get, that doesn’t necessarily translate into success of course.  Being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be mega successful, it just means you’re good at it…obviously.

I have recently been a little lax in my writing, I’d like to say there’s a good reason for this; but there isn’t.  Frankly, I’ve just been lazy and playing on my X-Box too much.  This is a common problem for me and I need to be more disciplined.  I’m not going to get better if I’m not writing.

Naughty Tom!

This is all going to change, I’m re-releasing Brogan and the Bandit King and so there are many things to do.  New content needs to be to finished and inserted, artwork needs to be commissioned and an editing process needs to be undertaken, amongst other things.  I need to save the money to pay for most of the things that need doing as of course.

I’ve personally always found writing to be easy, when I’m in the mood the words just flow on to the page.  The editing and promotional process however I find to be incredibly intimidating and mind numbingly tedious in equal measure.  Talking myself up is not something I find to be a natural thing, I don’t know if it’s my inner Englishman pushing through, or whether I just lack the personality traits required to big myself up.  It’s all so very difficult.

Still, like the old saying goes; nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Self-Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is expensive.

Having attempted to self-publish on the cheap and finding out that it doesn’t work, I decided to remove my book from sale pending some extra content, a new cover, and other bits.  So, I thought I may as well consider a proper professional edit, beta readers and all the jazz that comes with properly releasing a book.  All this with a view to republishing it sometime in the first quarter of next year looking all spangly*.

The problem?

It’s all so expensive.  For a proper edit, I was quoted a little over three hundred pounds and while that’s actually pretty good value when you consider there are some out there asking for over a grand**, it’s still a lot of money on my budget and that’s not even considering that the word count has increased since that quote.  Throw in beta readers and the art for the book and my costs are approaching the one thousand pounds mark before I’ve even set a release date.

Now sure, with suitable preparation I can save the money I need to get all this done.  But it’s going to be tight and I might have to survive on a diet of bread and water for the next six months or so, I jest of course, but you get my point.

So, I got to thinking whether there were other ways I could make money from my writing.  If I’m being honest, saying such things seem a little vulgar, I don’t know about the rest of you, but the thought of hawking my stories feels wrong somehow.  It’s daft of course, what else am I going to do if I want to become a full-time writer?

Anyway, after some thought I have come up with a potential solution to my problem that I’m hoping will enable me to make the required money, whilst also offering something of worth on a regular basis.  The solution; Patreon.

For those of you unaware of what Patreon is, let me direct you to what they (Patreon) call the magic line:

“Patreon is a membership platform that makes it easy for creators to get paid.”

I have a lot of things I need to do to enable me to my book out in a professional manner that will enable me to get it noticed.  It’s not just all the things I’ve mentioned above, but the necessary funds to promote my book to help get it noticed.  I would also prefer if possible to sell it via a webstore of my own if possible, thus avoiding the middle man, this will obviously incur further costs.  Then there’s the novellas I’ve written to follow the first book and of course the second book I would like to release no more than twelve months after the first and so, on it goes.

The work of any author is never finished, self-published authors just have a tad more to do.

I’ve not come up with a precise model for what I’m going to offer, but short stories at the very least are a given, along with a few extra rewards here and there, I’ll decide firmly in the future.  However, I feel now is the time to offer a word of reassurance, this blog shall forever remain free and I shall still be publishing Vernon stories through it.  My good friend Zog would never forgive me if I tried to charge for those.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it’s like I said sometime, to someone somewhere, or maybe in this blog…let’s just assume I said all right?

“Join me on my journey to becoming a full-time writer.”

To my mind it’s just the next step on the path to becoming a full-time writer and I’m quite excited to see how it goes.  It’s going to be a learning curve for sure and to be truthful a little nerve wracking, but I think it’s just the next logical step.  I shall keep you updated with my progress of course.  If it goes well, then who knows, maybe my experiences might inspire someone reading this blog in the future to try something similar.

Peace out folks, and happy writing!

*Super excellent
**One thousand pound

World Building

World building is hard.

I’ve often looked on enviously at fiction authors who write in a real-world setting, I’ve always thought they had it easier when it came to their worlds.  I mean sure, no -one forced me to write a fantasy series, thereby rendering it necessary for me build a whole new world from the ground up.  It was just the natural way for me to go, having long been a fan of fantasy fiction.

I digress however, the subject of my writing envy.

I think I’ve been a little unfair to my fellow fiction writing contemporaries.  In truth, we all have to build worlds when we write fiction, it is important you see to set the rules of your world in advance and then stick to them.  There’s little more annoying than going through three quarters of a book being told one thing by the story, only for it to do an about face and do something entirely contrary to the pre-existing rules of the story.  It’s jarring and few things will break immersion faster.

In any genre, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi or something a little more grounded like romance or drama, the world the story takes place in needs to be built.  If built in advance, with the author noting the ‘rules’ of the world and keeping in mind it’s lore, then as long as the author sticks to them everything should be consistent and non-jarring.

The same is true no matter what type of fiction you’re writing.  I can well imagine the fact that the Harry Potter series of books were couched in a real-world setting didn’t make it any easier for J.K. Rowling to write them.  Indeed, Lee Child will have had in mind when writing the Jack Reacher books what the eponymous character was capable of when writing them.  All worlds, no matter their location need to be built to a point.

When writing Brogan and the Bandit King and further stories set in the same world I needed to do the same.  Elves and dwarfs are a no-no, but wizards and demons are fine.  There will be fantastical creatures of all varieties for the hero and his companions to battle, but no orcs or goblins.  These are the things I need to remember as I go on.

Anyway, enough of my rambling, I need to decide where to put a city.

The Promised Land

I talk to the books I’m reading, or more specifically the characters in them.

If you put ten writers in a room and asked them what the key was to any story, you would probably get ten different answers.  I personally think there is no definitive answer to this question, there a great number of things that make a good story.  Whether it be a coherent narrative, likeable characters or any other of the dozens of things that make great stories when put together.

Any good story must be able to catch the writer’s imagination however, it must be able to make them laugh, cry or cringe.  We’ve all read books that have had this effect on us, we’ve cringed at a gory scene or laughed when our favourite character has done something only to then be driven to tears when they’re killed off in the next chapter.  We then sit there cursing the writer because they have cruelly murdered our favourite character, despite knowing that in a narrative sense it was the correct thing to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how the written word can fire our imagination in a way that no other medium can.  I personally think it’s because we feel a sense of ownership, we imprint our own idea of how things look onto these imaginary worlds and people.  How many of us have sat there decrying casting director’s choices of people to play certain roles in screen adaptations of stories; this guy right here for one.

This is not a bad thing.

Being passionate about fiction is a good thing, no, a great thing.  I talk to the characters like they’re real and that’s when I know a story has really got me.  If you need to remind yourself that it’s a work of fiction, well, you’ve reached the promised land of reading in my opinion.