Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to hand-sell 1000 books Part II

So you've done all your preparation work and arrived at the book store with pens in pocket and water bottle in hand.
After meeting as many of the staff as you can, you MUST get your table set up out the front of the store. Anything inside the store is a killer. And don't use a chair. If you sit down, you'll be lucky to get two sales, let alone 20.
Chat to the owners and see if they'll do a deal.
The ideal scenario (with a trilogy) is for them to knock a dollar or two off the price of the first book (to get the mildly interested and tyre-kickers over the line) and then a decent discount for them to take the entire trilogy.
Price points are vital. My trilogy has a rrp of $67. If you can offer it for $59 or better, I have a much better rate of success than $60 or above.
Dymocks Nowra offered all three for $55 and I sold five trilogies in 45 minutes, on a quiet Thursday afternoon when about 10 people walked past!
With that negotiated, get started!
If you're lucky, there are a few people waiting for you. You can use Facebook and Twitter to alert people - and don't disregard local newspapers. They're always looking for stories and even a couple of pars will give your name plenty of attention. They may not come in on the day but if they later see a poster up, or a signed copy on the shelf, then you've got a real chance of a purchase.
If there's no one there for you, no problem. There are dozens of book-lovers walking past the store each hour. You just need to talk to them.
You have to turn yourself into a cold-caller or spruiker - but a nice one!
My opening line is: ``Do you like reading?'
It forces people to stop and think - they can't just say ``No'' because it makes them look silly.
Having said that, there is a proportion of people who hate reading and will be quick to tell you!
Generally, they seem to prefer eating and getting themselves tattooed!
If they stop, or at least pause, I say: ``I'm an author and these are my books''.
They can either brush me or come over and talk.
You'd be surprised how many want to talk but if they don't, you have to still smile and give them a wave.
You are on show - you have to keep putting out positivity. Smile, be pleased to see people. You're asking them to pay money and buy your books. The least you can do is look happy about it!
Often I'll see someone walking briskly towards me, trying to hustle past this pushy bloke who's obviously trying to sell something. I'll give them a big smile and a cheery greeting and, quite often, they'll slow down enough for me to ask if they like reading - and go from there. But toss a question at them too early and they just brush you.
So now you have them talking. I have my pitch all worked out, tailored to whether the potential buyer is male, female or teenager (yes, a different species sometimes!)
Seriously, I give them a quick rundown of the book, point out a few reviews, number of reprints and bestseller status, then give them the special offer.
If all is good, then they say yes and I sign immediately before sending them inside to pay.
I sign at this stage for two reasons - one, they can't have a rethink while wandering around the store and just put the book down on a shelf and two, you're free to keep selling, instead of waiting for someone to pay and then come back to have it signed.
Now, if they are still wavering there are a few things to do. Offer them the back of the book to read. Ask them their favourite authors to see if you can draw a connection with your books.
Sometimes, however, they decide not to buy. Don't show any disappointment. Instead, encourage them to recommend you to friends/family who might like it better. Or to put it down on their wish list. Wave them off with a smile, so they have a positive memory of you.
The whole point of this is to sell yourself for two hours. Don't sell yourself short. People won't always want to buy your books on the day. But if you give them time and a smile, then it may well pay off.
Likewise if people tell you they love to read but don't like fantasy. Suggest your name to friends/family but don't make them feel bad.
Every person you talk to should remember you in a positive light.
When it comes to who to talk to, always pick women over men, as women are 70% of fantasy buyers.
Ideally you ask everyone, which means quieter foot traffic can mean better results. But, if faced with a choice of two, I always ask the woman!
Keep track of sales, if you wish, but always remember it's about speaking to people first, selling second. Get the first right and the sales will follow.
People want to meet authors. They want to buy books. You just have to reach out to them.
Next, I'll take you through in-depth tips and tricks to help convert talks into sales.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to hand-sell 1000 books a month - Part I

I've managed to turn bookstore appearances into something of an art, averaging 20 sales per store, often topping 30 sales and twice hitting 49 books sold in two hours.
Of course this does not count extra books left signed at the stores, people who don't want to buy that day but will ``keep you in mind'' and those who will pass on your name to their relative/friend who loves fantasy.
Plus there is the store feel-good factor, where store owners and staff are impressed by your efforts on their behalf and will not only have you back for your next book, but will also recommend your books to customers over the coming weeks and months.
It's a strategy I used to hand-sell 1032 books in a month and certainly helped my third book, The Radiant Child, spend the entire month on the Dymocks fantasy/sci-fi Bestseller list, with two weeks at number four, where it was the top-selling title by an Australian author.
I can't promise you will get those results but, if you are willing to put in the work, you will do well. And here's how:

You can't just walk out there and expect to do well. You have to be ready. The hard work begins long before you walk into a bookstore.
First step is the mental preparation. You will get ignored, brushed off and sneered at. It will happen. Be prepared to take it and move on. In two hours I will expect to ask more than 100 people to speak to me. About 30-40 will listen and 15-20 will then buy. That's a good day. If you can't handle rejection, then you shouldn't be a writer. If you can't handle being rejected 50-60 times in a couple of hours, then don't try these store appearances.
I did some acting when I was younger and try a couple of techniques. Firstly I see myself as Duncan Lay The Author for these appearances, which puts some space between the rejection and myself.
Secondly, experience tells me if I ask enough people, I will find buyers. I just have to shrug off the sneers and meet them with an ever wider smile. If you put out positive energy, eventually it comes back to you.
Next you need to know what to say. You have to sound confident. Work at what you will say until you are ready. You can offer people the back of the book to read but I have worked out a little spiel of my own. I also have variations to appeal to families with teenagers, to women and to men.
Obviously you are going to get the odd question that comes from left field - once I was asked how long was the longest battle scene and had to hurriedly flick through Risen Queen to find the answer.
But you can anticipate most of the questions - How long have you been writing, what was your inspiration, how long did it take to write this book, do you have any advice for budding writers, is this your full-time job (oh, if only they knew!) etc, etc.
Have a little think about these common questions, so you sound like you're on top of your game when they do get asked.
Arrive with a bottle of water and a pen, so you look prepared. Make sure the store has posters etc at least a week or so before you arrive.
Lunchtime is the best time for these appearances, so make sure you had a good breakfast.
If you have bookmarks or business cards, take enough so you can hand them out to as many people as possible.
Next, and this is VITAL. Insist you get a table out the front of the store (NOT inside) and NO CHAIR.
Sitting down breaks the eye contact with people. Sitting behind a desk creates a barrier between you and potential buyers. Going inside a store means you don't get to talk to passers-by.
Any of these things will destroy your chances at a successful store appearance.
Above all, prepare yourself so that the number of sales is not the be-all and end-all. You have two hours to promote yourself as best you can. Do that and sales will follow. Obsess about numbers and you will struggle.
So now you're ready to go ... next time I'll discuss how to talk to people, then go into some finer points of selling.
And, if I get enough forwards and re-tweets, I will put up a short video, to show you how I put it all together!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Conflux Part Two

If Friday of Conflux was mainly bookstores with a little panel work thrown in, Saturday was more about the panel.
It kicked off with a Starting The Journey panel, about the steps you need to take to get yourself published.
My fellow panellists were Voyager author Nicole Murphy, Angry Robot author Jo Anderton and ex-Harper Collins editor and online guru Natalie Costa Bir.
Nicole, as moderator, pointed out just how many people in the audience wanted to be published with a quick straw poll. Given there would be hundreds more across Australia, it brought home the enormity of the challenge.
I guess the message I tried to convey was simple.
Out of every 100 submissions an agent is sent, they will ask for perhaps five full manuscripts. Out of that five, perhaps one will be selected. maybe even one out of 120. It's that tough.
So it's up to you to do everything possible to make sure you are that one. Because if you don't, then you can be sure someone else is.
If that means thinking about the commercial possibilities of your work at the earliest stage, then so be it. Obviously don't try to slavishly follow what you think is the latest trend - you have to write something from the heart - but it makes sense to appeal to as many people as possible.
That was an enjoyable panel - and funny in that you could see the audience tweeting furiously as the advice came out!
After the panel, it was off to Dymocks Tuggeranong, where the long weekend rain had brought the shoppers out in hordes. As usual, they were happy to buy books from an author and I sold plenty of trilogies and also swiftly sold out of Wounded Guardians, leaving behind a happy bookstore!
An author-in-residence spot came next, and a great chat with the delightful Natalie, my copy editor extraordinaire and tweeting expert Abigail Nathan (Bothersome Words) and author-to-be Zena Shapter. They kept me company before it was time for a panel on Writing With Dinosaurs, about common themes or motifs in writing.
My panellists here were fellow Voyager author KJ Taylor and sci-fi author Simon Petrie.
I met KJ at my last Conflux in 2009; our books were and are on a similar time frame for release. More, I like the way she thinks - and she's always entertaining as a fellow panellist!
Our panel ranged across ideas and similarities within writing and I revealed a couple of recurring motifs within my own work ... a donkey and a bedtime song!
Once again, at the mass book signing, we sat together and chatted ... very necessary as we didn't have books to sell and sign!
The Sunday saw my final panel - Fantasy Accoutrements - the things every fantasy character needs.
I kicked off with the Goblinator 6000 Mark II ... it slices, it dices and it also has a handy attachment for cleaning the blood out from underneath the fingernails.
It's better than the Mark I, which had a tool for clipping nose hairs, except the button for that was too close to the slicer, which had several unfortunate incidents ...
In all seriousness, I highlighted the need for logic - as well as Hollywood's distressing habit of breaking rules of history and sense in its portrayal.
Basically, you can do whatever you want, but have it make sense. You can't sleep out for several nights without getting dirty and needing to carry plenty of food. Swords and other weapons lose their sharpness. Quivers mean you drop arrows everywhere.
I like to use history as a guide. Humans living in those environments coped as best they could and seeing how they did gives you a perfect start.
If you want to get creative, then that's fine as well - but have it make sense.
And as KJ Taylor pointed out, think things through to their logical conclusion!
I had a fun kaffeeklatsche afterwards but then called off my reading with my voice struggling due to all the bookstore appearances.
All in all, a fun Conflux. I met plenty of wonderful people and hope I said a few things that helped people, a little!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflux day one

It was a big day, although not a big day spent at the conference!
Just getting down to Canberra was nearly four hours in the car - and four hours of dealing with crazy drivers.
A couple of things I noticed:
If your 4WD is too big to stay in one lane, then you probably have some major body compensation issues.
And what part of ``Keep Left Unless Overtaking'' do people not understand? When you've got caravans doing 90km/h in the fast lane and dozens of people queued behind, you would think they might notice.
The HarperCollins rep for Canberra and South Coast, Jodi, told me today she reckons it's the theory of ``If my name isn't on it, then it doesn't apply to me''. I think she's right!
When I hit Canberra, I hit the bookstores. Sadly, the local bookstore scene is much reduced since the last time I was down here, with the Borders and A+R stores all gone.
Luckily the three Dymocks are still alive and well and truly kicking - I did Belconnen at lunchtime and then Canberra Central in the afternoon.
Canberrans love their books and I talked to a great many fascinating people - including several authors and people who want to be authors.
One of the most memorable was actually a bloke called Henry.
He didn't buy the whole trilogy, just book one, but he stood out.
You see, I always ask people, ``Do you like reading?'' and then if they stop, I then talk to them about the books and go from there.
He gave me the reply - ``I don't read''.
Usually I just smile and then turn away, but Henry wanted to talk. After chatting, he decided to buy the first book.
For a writer, that's a huge responsibility. If he doesn't get into this, then he might be turned off reading.
I hope, I really hope, that he gets into it and develops a love of reading.
I sold, I think, getting on for 50 books at the two stores (I'll have to go back into Twitter to check!)
Then I checked into the hotel before rushing off to check into Conflux.
I have the nasty feeling the hotel may be a big mistake. With Floriade, there was nothing available for two nights in the mid-range price. I'm in the Formule 1. It's cheap. For a reason. Still, there's always the hope the bed might be comfortable ...
The first panel at Conflux was on media franchises and while it was an interesting discussion, I wasn't able to make the point I had been thinking about when I signed up for it.
I see the development of spin-offs and fan fiction etc around TV shows and films as a demonstration of pure imagination, the imagination that speculative fiction fans need.
That's imagination being used for a positive thing.
Of course everyone has imagination but, sadly, too many people use it for purposes such as:
1) Imagining their bum does look good in those pants
2) Imagining that calling their kid Britney - but with two `i's, three `t's and four `e's is creative
3) Imagining that footballers with the morals of an alley cat and the sexual appetite of a randy goat make good role models for little Brittteeneei and her brother Cooper (spelt with a K, two `p's and two `h's)

Anyway, plenty of panels and one more bookstore tomorrow!
And the strange room at Formule 1 awaits ...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conflux Schedule

Here's my plans for Conflux this October long weekend.
If you're going to be at Conflux then these are the places you can catch me; if not, then there's still plenty of chances to say hello or get books signed as I go out to Dymocks stores!
If you aren't going to be in Canberra this long weekend, then why not follow things on Twitter? I'm going to be Twittering live at bookstore appearances and, if it's true to form, will have plenty of amusing tales from the shopping centres!
Look for @DuncanLay if you're not already following me.
Not on Twitter?I'll also be updating things on the blog and Facebook, so jump on there if you like.

Friday September 30
11.30am - Dymocks Belconnen
1.45pm - Dymocks Central Canberra
5.30pm - Media franchise panel

Saturday October 1
10am: Starting The Journey panel
11.30am: Dymocks Tuggeranong
2.30pm: Author-in-residence at Conflux
3.30pm: Writing With Dinosaurs panel
4.30pm: Mass Signing at Conflux (perfect for a chat as there'll probably be far more authors than readers!)

Sunday October 2
10am: Fantasy Accoutrements panel (where I'll be unveiling my new Goblinator 6000 Mark II ... )
11am: Kaffeeklatsche
12.30pm: A reading of The Radiant Child

Hope to say hello to as many people as possible!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Darth Vader strikes back at George Lucas

Twenty years ago, I interviewed Dave Prowse, who played the body of Darth Vader in the three original Star Wars movies.
To a newspaper cadet who had grown up on Star Wars (it was the first movie I had seen), this was an absolute thrill - not least because he demonstrated on me the classic scene where he picks up a Rebel officer and holds him two foot off the ground. Luckily he didn't do it by my neck! More on that later ...
But one of the things that surprised me was the way he spoke about Lucas, and what Lucas had done to the films after the actors had walked off the set.
Bear in mind this was in 1991, long before The Phantom Menace hit the screens and introduced Star Wars fans to a character hated more than Vader and the Emperor combined - Jar Jar Binks.
This week, George Lucas released all six of his Star Wars movies in Blu-ray - and the controversy reminded me vividly of what Dave Prowse was saying, 20 years ago.
For those who haven't been following it, or have been living underground in a small farming settlement on Tatooine, Lucas has taken the opportunity of fiddling with the movies for Blu-ray. Now, he's done this before - the Special Edition films tidied up many of the - admittedly - primitive special effects and sound, as well as reinstating scenes that had been cut from the original for budget and/or technology reasons (such as Han Solo meeting Jabba the Hutt in A New Hope).
But, to many fans, Lucas has gone too far now.
His biggest ``crime'' is to play with the climax of the original trilogy - some could say the climax to the entire saga.
Luke Skywalker, having defeated his father (Vader) refuses to take his place and turn to the dark side. The Emperor is shooting lightning bolts into the hapless Luke while Vader watches. Finally he can take no more and silently changes back to his former self, to Anakin Skywalker, destroys the Emperor, saves Luke - and sacrifices himself in the process.
In the new version, Vader now screams ``Nooooo!' as he acts, infuriating fans across the world.
But, 20 years ago, he had already infuriated Darth Vader.
Dave Prowse was out in Australia for a convention and visited Woy Woy to thank one of the organisers. I went to a small, fibro-style home to meet this giant of a man. He was struggling with arthritis (well, he was about 56 then) but a massive presence.
He told me Lucas spotted him in A Clockwork Orange and offered him a choice - either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. He said he chose Vader because ``everyone remembers the baddie''.
Obviously he and the other actors had no idea how big Star Wars was going to be - but he said he also had a huge shock when he watched the film for the first time. Having spoken all the lines himself, he told me he was surprised - and disappointed - to hear not his Bristol accent but the dulcet tones of James Earl Jones.
Frankly, this was a great choice by Lucas as Prowse's voice is not a patch on Jones - but Prowse was most disappointed that Lucas never told him, that the first time he learned of it was at the premiere.
Of course Lucas may have a different recollection of this; I haven't interviewed him.
Prowse was most proud of his work in The Empire Strikes Back, with what he called ``the thinking man's Vader'' but, by the time Return Of The Jedi came around, he had fallen out with Lucas.
He admits he was not happy on the set and he was deeply saddened he never got to show his face as Darth Vader, not even as the ``scarred'' Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi. This role went to Sebastian Shaw - although Shaw was later edited out of the sequence where Anakin Skywalker appears as a Jedi spirit with Yoda and Ben Kenobi. Hayden Christensen was morphed into this - although why Anakin would be a young spirit when Kenobi stayed as Alec Guinness and not Ewan McGregor made no sense ...
Prowse was certainly a charming man to interview, dropping such tidbits as how he was Christopher Reeve's personal trainer for the original Superman, helping the skinny Reeve stack on 5kg of muscle for the role.
Still, he's huge and if I was Lucas, perhaps I wouldn't tell him bad news personally!
He also demonstrated the famous scene from A New Hope where he lifts up a Rebel officer by the throat. It was done in two parts - he held the actor around the throat while the man stood on a chair. For the second part he simply lifted the man in the air by his shoulders. To demonstrate this, he simply reached out, clamped his massive hands around my upper arms and lifted me a foot off the ground. Back then I was about 80kg but I might as well have been a feather.
As I hung there, feet dangling, it was a perfect moment.
Now I hear about the changes to the pivotal Vader moment and feel sad. Sad for Prowse, sad for such a wonderful character and sad for every child that watches the `new' print and misses out on a little bit of movie magic.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In praise of beta readers

It's a fine line between your manuscript getting published - and it getting rejected.
There are any number of great ideas for books out there, and plenty of people with a talent for writing.
So what does make the difference?
For me, it is the quality of the advice you get - especially from beta readers - and of course what you do with that advice.
I've written before how a gust of wind was the difference between my first book, The Wounded Guardian, being published or not.
Of course it was the advice I was given, because of that gust of wind.
Beta readers make a huge difference to a book - but how do you find them?
They've got to be people you can trust to be honest, people able to find the flaws in your writing and also able to offer constructive criticism.
It's a fine line. You don't want to have too many people reading early drafts, because you can get too much conflicting advice.
But there's always the danger of not being able to see the big picture - the wood for the trees.
I am very lucky to have a couple of beta readers whose judgment I trust.
It was their suggestions that led me to a massive rewrite of the first book of the new series.
Of course you can't write a book by committee, but beta readers make all the difference.
I have no doubt there are many wonderful books languishing in dusty drawers or forgotten folders deep in the bowels of computers, all for the lack of beta readers.
If you don't have one (or two) then begin searching.
Most people know the value of a publishing editor, a copy editor and proof readers. I've been lucky enough to work with fantastic ones.
But I wouldn't have had a chance without a beta reader.
Truly, they are a vital part of the process.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New dates for the new series

HarperCollins has let me know the new publishing dates for the upcoming series:
Book 1 (currently called The Cursed Tears but may well become Bridge Of Swords or indeed something else entirely!) will be out in August 2012.
Book 2 (now The Grieving Son but hopefully Pass Of Arrows) will be out February 2013
Book 3 (now The Raging Night but perhaps Hill Of Shields) will be out August 2013.
Now this means it will be fully two years between The Radiant Child (July 2010) and the first of the new series.
That's my fault!
HC pushed my dates back partly because of overseas releases but mainly because I have rewritten the first book so dramatically - and taken a long time about it.
Part of that was the injury to my index finger, which stopped me writing for the best part of a month but it was mostly the sheer scale of the rewrite.
Basically I took the main character, Sendatsu, and changed him completely. This means about 25% of the rewrite is all new and 50% is substantially changed - not a task you can finish in a few days.
The other issue was book two, which I had written about 80,000 words. Now Sendatsu had changed, about 70,000 words of this had to change. Basically I was back to the beginning with book two - and had to deliver that by the end of the year because of the old deadline.
I took the decision because of the feedback I was getting from my beta readers. The bottom line was the original character was too polarising - a real love/hate character. Hanging an entire trilogy on someone like that is too much to ask. The danger was readers would turn off him before he was redeemed.
It's a classic trap of a trilogy ... your character's arc is designed over three books, so you begin with an unsympathetic character who wins over the reader (ideally). The problem is, you can end up with one who turns off the reader, so they don't read on to find out what happens!
I've written before about David Gemmell, one of my inspirations for writing fantasy. He managed to do something similar with Sigarni in Ironhand's Daughter. His follow-up book, The Hawk Eternal, relegated her to a minor character and put someone more sympathetic front and centre.
Of course Gemmell had, by then, a large and dedicated readership who stuck with him.
I don't have that luxury!
I have many other stories I want to write - and want the opportunity to see them in print.
It was a big call to rip up a main character, change them utterly and go again. But the alternative was worse.
Honestly, it was a scary call but I've always been of the opinion you should do things that scare you!
The good news is, I'm sure it was the right decision.
Of my two beta readers, one said the new opening was ``100 times better'' and the other said they ``love, love, loved it'' and was ``instantly sympathetic to Sendatsu''.
Infinitas Bookshop, which has been a wonderful supporter of The Dragon Sword Histories, once said to me that fantasy was ``all about the characters''.
That's absolutely correct.
I had to get the characters right. I think they are now ... but it has taken longer than I thought.
Hopefully the wait will prove worthwhile!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

World Building

One of the ways in which my second series will differ from the first is in the world the characters inhabit.
At first glance this might not seem to be so, for they are actually in the same world ... the same rules of magic apply, the same theology and the same lack of woodland pixies and other ``magical'' folk.
But where my desire in the first series was to throw readers into the story and the characters' problems, in this series there was more of a need to develop the world.
This was for two reasons: the culture and development of each country becomes a vital plot point as the series moves on and, secondly, part of the story is about an "elf'' banished into the human world, so the contrast between what he knows and how the other humans live is a vital part.
In The Dragon Sword Histories, most countries had a similar level of technology and I concentrated more on the differences in attitude among the people. Thus the Norstalines took some inspiration from America between the two world wars; insular, arrogant and certain that they were the only place of importance. The Berellians took some inspiration from Nazi Germany and the indeed other totalitarian regimes. The Tenochs were a rough mix of Aztec and Mayan.
But in the new series, I needed a different approach.
Each country has its own culture - but a culture muddied and often forgotten thanks to what the "elves" (really Elfarans - humans who think they are the elves of legend) did to them centuries ago.
So what they have is a ghost of a culture, memories or fragments really, which are not important to them but become so as the series moves on.
The Velsh, from The Vales, are - perhaps obviously - based loosely on the Welsh.
Part of my fascination with this comes from the battle of Pilleth, one of the major inspirations for The Dragon Sword Histories. Popular culture has made much of the Scottish struggle for independence - there have been many books and movies, most famously Braveheart.
But the Welsh are the Britons, driven west by the Saxon invasions, and their story has not had the same prominence. Yet it is the story of Arthur, the - supposed - historical British warleader who stopped the Saxons.
I also found it fascinating for they lived among the faded glories left them by the retreating Romans. The idea of seeing technology far beyond your own, buildings you could never hope to make and the effect that would have on a people really resonated with me and, by substituting my "elves" for Romans, adapted this.
Research into my Velsh meant going into Celtic history and daily life. Obviously the Internet makes this much easier but books such as Horrible Histories also throw up some fascinating, quirky insights into life then.
Huw, the bard, is Velsh and his journey unlocks the hidden secrets of the Velsh/Welsh culture.
Next come the Forlish, loosely based on the Saxons. Their leader wants to return Men to the glory he sees around him every day in the "elven" ruins - by uniting every country under the one flag and pooling their knowledge. He just chooses to do this by the sword.
Rhiannon, the dancer, is Forlish and her journey includes discovering that humans can do magic, not just elves, a discovery that will change everyone's future and fate.
And the elves. Theirs is a bastard culture, partly the Elfaran culture we met back in the Dragon Sword Histories, which was loosely based on the Roman culture, and partly the culture their forebears adopted when they left the dragons' service and found themselves wives, and families among a people called the Nippon (loosely based on the Japanese).
Sendatsu, the "elf" has been banished for not having magic and he is the key to unlocking these mysteries, as he knows some of the secrets of the elves, as well as the story of the humans.
So we have a series of cultures, all bastardised by the "elves" at first wanting to help the humans and then in fact stealing their culture, their magic and religion, leaving them nothing more than hollow memories.
The search for the truth behind these memories is a vital part of the story.
Obviously there is much more to it - the journeys of my three main characters, as well as the underlying heart of the books - but in this series, far more than my first, world building plays an important part.
Even the placenames, based on real names, tell a story.
All through the first book, particularly, are little clues and fragments that hint towards future revelations and, while they may not seem like much at first, will prove to be vital.
I look forward to sharing it with you!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The new series - what title do you want?

I am over the moon to be able to say HarperCollins has signed me up for a second trilogy, which will be published in April 2012, October 2012 and April 2013 ... so still 12 months to the first book being on the shelves but then not long to wait between them!
Now, despite being asked, this trilogy will NOT be featuring Martil, Karia and Merren.
I do have a second trilogy planned for them, taking place about 10 years after the events of Radiant Child but I'm not quite ready to write that one yet.
I sincerely hope I do have the opportunity, however!
Anyway, to the new series:
It is set in the same world, although on a completely different continent. However, there is the same rules of magic and the same theology - and one common thread with The Dragon Sword Histories.
It features descendants of the Elfarans, who truly believe they are the elves of legend and saga - and what that mistaken belief means for the humans living around them.
It features Sendatsu, an elf (Elfaran) banished from his kind because he cannot do magic, and exiled to a brutal human world, where he discovers his knowledge and skills make him a wild card in a people's battle for freedom.
It is also the story of Huw, a bard, whose hopes of a better world and courage to stand up for his beliefs - courage that came with a bitter price - could change history.
And the story of Rhiannon, a dancer who dreams of performing for the elves but whose ability to use magic will destroy what everyone believes to be true about elves, humans and their places in the world ...
At the heart of the story is a dilemma that we all face; the decision we must make at some point in our lives where we can either follow our parents' beliefs, and the path they want us to take - or we we try and find our own way ...
There is a fair bit of humour in here, as well as action.
Book one is essentially written, and will be ready to hand to HC by the end of March 2010.
One thing I am still working on, however, is the titles for the series.
I originally planned to call it Empire Of Bones - however, that has been taken.
At the moment I have a few ideas, of which my current favourites are as follows:
1) The first set of titles is loosely inspired by the Mabinogion, Welsh fairy tales or legends contained in several ancient books. Foremost among these are the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch. Adapting these, we get a trilogy called:
The Black Book Of Elves
The White Book Of Forland
The Red Book Of Vales

However, explaining these titles may take too much time ...!

2) As much of the books are set in Vales, among the Velsh, with a recurring theme of the impact our parents have on us, I was drawn to the Dylan Thomas poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, which is arguably written for his father and certainly about his father dying.
From it comes these three titles:

The Grieving Sun
The Cursed Tears
The Raging Night

What do you think? What appeals to you? I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Radiant Child DVD extra

One of the struggles I had with The Radiant Child was fitting everything in! You might think a 180,000-word limit seems pretty generous but I found it pretty difficult to strike the right balance and kep everything in that were essential to the story.
For those who have read Radiant Child (and I would encourage anyone who hasn't read the book to finish to before going any further, as it both contains spoilers and requires a certain knowledge of the storyline), here is a short novella if you like that I was forced to cut.
It concerns Kesbury, the former Ralloran sergeant who helps Martil and eventually redeems his deeds at Bellic to become a priest of Aroaril.
I did want to show a different path to redemption, and explore a character I liked further but, after the first draft, it became very clear that I had to jettison quite a few sub-plots. This was one of them.
Bear in mind that you are reading a first draft quality - although some of these scenes made their way into the final draft, albeit considerably changed.
Anyway, I'd be interested to hear what you think ... does this add anything to the overall story or was it better indeed that it was cut!


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Writing around the Christmas Tree

It's the holiday season and, like many other families, we try to make a special occasion out of decorating the Christmas Tree.
But, while doing so, I was struck by the similarities between the rewriting process and dressing the Christmas Tree.
I should say at this point that I have become even more of a fan of the rewriting process than I was before. There are some writers who can punch out a book in one sitting - I remember reading that Enid Blyton used to knock out a 50,000-word Famous Five book in one weekend (and still have time for a cracking tea with lashings of strawberry jam). I'm not one of them.
My first draft is when I get to know the characters - and then I start to play with them, to add texture and richness and sub-plots and detail.
Each subsequent draft adds a little something more, each draft not necessarily making radical changes but constant, subtle ones, until the finished product is drastically different from the first draft.
Not unlike the Christmas Tree.
First of all you have the bare foliage - the bare bones, if you will.
Next comes the lights, which have to be positioned just right. Following them the tinsel is draped around the tree, spaced evenly and given due weight.
Next comes the special ornaments, the ones that have particular meaning. These are spaced properly, placed to give them the prime position.
Then come the Christmas balls; next the ribbons, then the other assorted ornaments and finally the candy canes.
After each stage, we stand back and look at the tree, consider it from several different angles, and possible reposition things. A precious ornament might be in just the right place - but it means the tinsel, or possible a light, need to be moved.
It's an organic process, which takes time, until all are in agreement that it is looking the best it possible can be - even better, in fact. It is perfect.
All of this is not unlike the writing - and re-writing - process.
Each layer adds something new, works in with what is already there and adds to the whole.
At the end, far from the bare bones, you have something that is a pleasure to the eye and inspires comment from others.
If you can do that with a book, then it's been a good Christmas indeed!