Monthly Archives: August 2015

And the winner is….

2015-08-21 15.39.35Last weekend, in conjunction with Fun Junction (and to tie in with the Crieff Arts Festival and the mini book festival that ran within it titled ‘Writers Live‘), I ran a ‘Design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition. All the entries had to be in by the end of the weekend and I’ve had a tricky job on my hands ever since.

Basically I liked so many of the entries I received that I decided to have three winners. The fourth book will be out in November, it’s a condensed chapter story set at Christmas time, and I’ve left space for a short story to fit in along side it. I’ll be starting work on the short story tonight but in the meantime I thought I’d share the winners’ artwork.

20150827135455058_0001Congratulations to Jenny, who’s already had a wee mention in the Acknowledgements in ‘Spark of Dreams’. Jenny even submitted a character description along with her picture so here it is:

“Name: Stormfly
What is it: Dragon
Qualities: Friendly, cold dragon. She breathes ice straight up into the sky to make snow storm clouds and tail whacks the ground and is as strong as an earthquake.”

I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘Stormfly’ gets up to in the story (though I may have to ask Jenny if I can give her a different name as she shares her name with Astrid’s dragon in ‘How to train Your Dragon’). I have to confess that I’ve been hunting for an excuse to put a dragon into Fey to see what happens, so thank you Jenny, I’m really excited about this one.

wpid-wp-1440709009452.gifNext, congratulations to Summer. Summer’s character didn’t have a name but I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the picture. I’m not sure how well this will come across in the image here but basically almost every part of this picture sparkles. The twinkling black sky and the girl in the shimmering party dress already have me setting out a wee starting scene on a frosty night in Fey. Thank you Summer.

20150827135514242_0001Finally congratulations to Grace for her ’10 eyed monster’. I’ve a feeling that this guy is going to have an interesting role to play in the story. My first thoughts picture him living deep in a cave. He comes across as scary and I don’t want to lose that so I’ll need to think hard about what he’ll be up to, in what will basically be a Christmas story. Every good story needs some conflict and I think the ten eyed monster will be just the ticket. Thank you Grace.

It’s going to take me a wee while to get this story drafted up but I’ll be sure to post it on here when it’s ready and it will also be available in print in November. Of course it wouldn’t be fair to ask the contributors to buy a copy so I’ll be sure to set aside a free copy for each of them that they can get hold of before they appear on the shelves.

I’ll contact the winners shortly and will hopefully have their story ready for them in the next few weeks but in the meantime I’d like to ask people to give them a big social media round of applause with likes or favourites on their pictures (you can find them by clicking this link for facebook and this, this, and this link for twitter). As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

The words are Magic

Word magic quote Fynn Jack Reusen and the Fey FlameOK this is an idea that I’ve been running in the background of the books for a while but I wanted to touch base on what people thought to the concept and whether it’s an easy thing to follow. Here’ s the general idea behind the way that magic works in Jack’s world:

  • Characters in the book are characters in a book
  • The worlds in the book are worlds in a book
  • …you get the idea
  • Somewhere deep inside their bones some of the characters know these things, and they can train themselves to change the words in the story around them.

I haven’t made this clear very often in the books for fear of making a children’s book like its overly intelectual. The books are just adventure stories with bad guys and fate-of-the-world stuff but the philosopher John that hides in my head and over-thinks things (here I’ll flap my BAHons, MLitt, and MPhil around) needed some highfalutin stuff to keep him occupied. For the most part this is all this is but I still thought it might be iteresting to share.

If you’re looking for subtext then you might also get the idea that the Wishmaster is a representation of Stalinist communism, the Reusens began their days trying to enact something like Rawl’s ‘veil of ignorance’ (a perfect world with equal opportunuties for all), and there’s even a bit or rationalism vs. impiricism hiding in there (magic: you believe what you can logically think up, matter-world: you believe what you can see). If you read into them deeply enough the first three books basically work as a Philosophy 101 course.

But in essence the books are suppposed to get kids thinking about the power of the words they say. The very first scene in the very first book finds Jack lost and alone because he told his parents he hates them, in Jack’s world (and in many ways in ours as well) words have power.

As always thanks so much for reading and feel free to leave any questions or comments you like in the comments below, all the best, John

Off to ‘Elsewhere’

I won’t be blogging tonight, firstly because I’ve got loads of prep to do for my talk tomorrow, but also because I’m heading down with the family to see this:

If you’re in the Crieff area they’re hosting shows in Mungal park (part of MacRosty park, you get to it by crossing the bridge). Shows are at 6pm 21st Aug (tonight) and then at 2pm and 5:30pm on Saturday (22nd) and the same times (2pm and 5:30pm) on Sunday (23rd). OK I’m off to the show, hope to see some of you there, all the best, John

Goodreads

2000px-Goodreads_logo.svgI’m now officially a goodreads author. They were brilliant at helping me link together my books and even created a wee page to show the ‘Jack Reusen’ series in its own light. It’s a great wee (OK not so wee) site which helps you track down books that you might like based on what other readers have said about them. I’m looking forward to experimenting myself as it’s always tough for me to figure out what to read next.

I’m a dad, I work full time, and I write books (and blog about them, and do book talks on them) in my ever shrinking spare time. Because of this I don’t get much time to sit and read and when I do I like the book to be something really special that I can get lost in for a half hour or so. I can’t wait to see what kind of suggestions I start to see once I get a few reviews written up.

Speaking of reviews (wink wink) goodreads does have my books listed and they’re sitting there with no reviews attached to them at the moment. If you feel like popping over clicking on the stars and writing a few words that would make me a very happy part-time author.

Even if you’re not in the mood to write a review I do recommend checking out goodreads. It’s genuinely a great resource for readers, plus it allows you to connect with your favourite authors via their author pages (that is, if they man them). Short post tonight, more prep for Crieff’s mini book festival for me. I should also point you towards the arts festival programme, there is literally a heap of stuff on this weekend and you don’t want to miss it (Faerie folk are even taking over one of Crieff’s parks!). Thanks for reading, all the best, John

Playing to an empty room? (and some info about competitions)

theater-105573_1280Just a short one tonight as I’m getting my ideas together for my book talk at ‘Writers Live!’ on Saturday. Basically that’s the main thing on my mind at the moment; will people come to my book talk? The idea of talking to an empty room is far more daunting than the thought of talking in front of a big crowd.

So far responses on the events page seem promising so I’ll try and hold back on the anxiety, also I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the entries for the competition I’m running in conjunction with Fun Junction.

I’ve actually got two different competitions running in conjunction with my book talk for Crieff Arts Festival but only one of them ends this weekend: The ‘Design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition is being run in conjunction with Fun Junction (where entries can be handed in). Simply design a character to feature in a Jack Reusen book. I’ll write the character into a short story which will appear on this site soon after the arts festival, but it will also be appearing in print and released inside a book that’s due to come out just before Christmas (I’ll post the title of the new book tomorrow night 😉 ).

You can submit a picture, a character description, or both. Just in case you don’t get a chance before the talk, I’ll also be bringing a big pile of paper and pencils along to the Strathearn Artspace on Saturday so that children (and adults if they want) can draw up their characters and hand them in either to me on the day. You can also drop off entries at Fun Junction up until 5:15pm on Saturday (if you want to take your time drawing/writing). Judging will take place this weekend and entries should either be dropped in to Fun Junction, or scanned and sent digitally to either the Jack Reusen facebook account, twitter account, or to jackreusen@hotmail.co.uk.

The second competition will now be running until the end of August: Simply explain what you liked most about ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ on the facebook page to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of either ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘, ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ or (if you don’t mind the wait), you can get an early release, signed edition of ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ when it comes out in the Autumn.

If you haven’t already, please pop along to the events page on facebook and say whether you’ll be able to make it along to the book talk (if I know that people are coming I might be able to relax enough for that ‘humming’ noise in my ears to go away 😉 ). As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Why Fantastic 4 is failing (and why Batman vs. Superman will follow suit)

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I haven’t seen it, to be honest I might even like the movie when I do, but one thing I know already is that 20th Century Fox made a mistake. It was just too soon for a reboot, especially on a movie that failed to perform as well as other superhero franchises the first time around. The numbers are looking bad for the movie on it’s second week out in the world.

The Fantastic Four has never been my favourite comic book team but neither have I had anything bad to say about them either. Overall I give all of the characters a loud resounding ‘yeh they’re OK’. However, even an ‘OK’ superhero franchise is better than a bad one, or even worse none at all, so what do I think has gone wrong here?

It’s all about emotional investment; viewers watched a movie (2004), and then a sequel (2007), from that point on most of us might have expected to see a further instalment (after all it would round out to a nice trilogy). However, our investment, both emotional, and in terms of time spent, has been wasted on characters that have now been binned. Even if the previous Fantastic Four movies weren’t the best movies ever, I was still in a position of wanting to see what happens next. Now there is no ‘next’, and there never will be.

I feel short-changed, as I suspect many marvel fans do. I also feel (to a certain extent) cheated out of a satisfying end to a decent (though not exactly ‘fantastic’) storyline. Why on earth would I bother convincing my wife to come and watch yet another superhero movie, handing over my money, and then sitting through a couple of hours of storytelling, when I have prior experience that tells me that I could very well be wasting my time.

It could be the best movie ever made and still I’d be reluctant to go. In fact I would be even more reluctant to see it if it does turn out to be an amazing movie because I can’t be sure whether Fox will make a sequel or simply yank the rug out from under me yet again. This brings me to my prediction about Batman vs. Superman:

Brandon Roth’s Superman (2006) was promptly (OK not promptly but in movie terms pretty closely) followed by a revamped (and very dark) Henry Cavill (2013). I kind of liked both movies but the revamping bugged me and now this Superman mark III (Christopher Reeve’s Superman may have predated it significantly but he left a very solid impression) is being combined with yet another revamped character to create a ‘Super-revamped’ mash-up.

Superman mark III will be up against Batman mark…(I literally have no idea any more, there have been so many). To be safe just consider the fact that The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, making this reboot the quickest I’ve mentioned so far. Waiting four years to reboot a character really doesn’t do WB any favours with fans.

I find it easy to believe in Disney’s faith in the Marvel universe they’re building. Sadly, as a fan, I simply don’t believe that either Fox or WB believes in their franchises as much, not enough to commit to telling a story, even where a movie in the middle of that story fails. As a viewer walking into the cinema to watch a Fox or WB superhero movie I will always be asking myself “Why am I here? Is this just another blatant ‘Hail Mary’ pass from a studio that is desperately trying to claw out the same returns as The Avengers?”

And there’s the clincher; the real reason these films flop: if the studios don’t care then why should the fans. As a solid Superman and Batman fan I’m sorry to say I probably won’t be attending the cinema to watch in 2016.

I might catch it on DVD or buy a digital copy on Amazon a few months later, but by then the studios will already be calculating returns and dropping sequels. They’re not willing to wait for the fans who (quite rightfully) have reservations about the story the studio is telling. Once again we have yet another nail in the coffin of superhero franchises that belong to studios who have stopped caring about the stories they are trying to tell.

Sorry for yet another movie rant but I couldn’t help it. Do you see Batman vs. Superman becoming a big hit? I sincerely hope I’ll be eating my words come next year but what I’ve seen so far isn’t changing my mind. At the moment it really feels as though they’re all rushing in before they’ve figured out what story they want to tell us.

As always thanks for reading, and apologies again for the rant, all the best, John

3 Tips on Dealing with a bad fit in your writing

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Sometimes you’ll feel yourself stumbling when writing, and one of the worst stumbling blocks can arise where something, or someone, doesn’t fit the story in the way you originally planned. So what do you do when a character doesn’t quite fit the situation which you’ve plunged them into? Here are three hints (in no particular order):

Conflict: Find conflict and resolve it (pick your pace depending on importance of character to the story). This sounds simple but it can be a fantastic way to bring a bit of excitement or intrigue to dull or lifeless scenes and characters and it’s often a great way of moving your plot forward a little.

Mirroring: Sometimes a character will lose contact with who they are and what they’re supposed to be about. Here you can use ‘mirroring’ to draw them back on track; basically find a pivotal scene that helped establish that character at some earlier point (probably the more distant the better) and return to something similar. This approach has a two fold benefit; either this will highlight an organic change that’s already occurred in a way that will allow the plot to move forwards, or it will pull them back from changing too far from who you need them to be and what you need them to be doing.

Lighten the the load: Sometimes a character starts doing the work of two or three characters. Where your plot needs brains, heroics, strength, wisdom, hope, naivity, innocence, etc. you may find that your character is taking on too much. At best they’ll seem very changeable with hard to read emotions, at worst they’ll appear volatile and unbelievable. Here you’ll need a secondary or even tertiary character to lighten the load, let them take on some of the work of moving the story along and allow your main characters to become more established and easier to follow.

Complexity is great, and absolutely essential to a useful, versatile and lasting character but it can also get in the way of getting to know them. Don’t overdo the additional characters though, as you don’t want a humongous cast of characters to keep track of (especially in a children’s book).

There are other things you can do but these three should help neaten up what’s going in your book, and hopefully make your work a little easier too. Anyway, I hope this helps someone out there, or if nothing else that you find it interesting to read about how I work with my own characters. Thanks for reading, all the best, John

The Illustrator: Karen MacAllister

karen macallister 1Back in April of this year I wrote a post asking for an artist or illustrator to help me by putting together a more striking cover for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’. I even titled the post ‘Artist/Illustrator wanted’ but I was surprised at how few people got in touch with me but suddenly out of the blue Karen sent me a message on facebook. She asked me about my plans for the cover and we messaged back and forth about themes, colour palettes, and what kind of images I specifically wanted to see on the cover.

karen macallister 4She sent me some sketches within 24 hours and it instantly felt like the right fit and once she sent me colour samples I was definitely looking forward to seeing the finished product. Karen used her experience to simplify some of my design ideas and pulled the cover together into something intriguing, bold, and exciting.

To be honest we didn’t even meet in person until she was dropping off the original cover sheets for me to get scanned (well that’s not completely true, we actually had met before, as I found out that Karen had actually helped out in my first year German class at High School, small world).

karen macallister 2Despite the fact that we only communicated via facebook messages Karen nonetheless seemed to know exactly what was needed to get the cover exactly right and I couldn’t be happier, she’s even agreed to create a new cover for ‘…Fey Flame’ (which is actually already finished and I honestly can’t wait to show you, it’s amazing) and she’s also agreed to creating a cover for ‘Children of Fate’ once it’s ready. If you’re looking for some amazing colour work and a bold yet intriguing style then I can wholeheartedly recommend that you get in touch with Karen.

karen macallister 3For more of Karen’s work just click on any of the images featured here to visit her blog (and I hope that she doesn’t mind me borrowing them to add to this post) and if you would like to commission her to create something amazing for you then follow this link to her professional site. As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Literature festivals are awesome (and you should come to Crieff’s)

11138141_527430924073593_2731289479583220078_n(*updated timetable) Many years ago I went to the Edinburgh International Book festival on a trip with my Higher (5th year) English class. We were dropped into the middle of an event that felt like it was part rock festival and partly like sitting down for a cup of tea in  a friend’s living room. There was excitement, humour, and we were introduced to a lot of incredible writing. However, the most striking thing for me was the way it felt to be talking to an author about their work.

Meeting an author, even of a book you haven’t read, can be a really interesting experience, mostly because writing is such an intimate art form and those who do it gain a lot of insight into what makes them tick. It can be genuinely refreshing to get inside someone else’s head and see how ideas form and develop into something tangible, which is then presented openly to the public. Not everyone acts like this and when I saw the type of people that writers are it made me even more sure that I wanted to be one.

crieff arts festivalWell, good news everyone! Now anyone in the Crieff area on the 22nd August can get the chance to have this experience too as, Crieff is getting their own mini literary festival! There will be a huge array of writers with very different writing styles in attendance and there will even be a talk on getting your own work published (for any aspiring authors among you).

1273863_342306299238716_2146995532_oDon’t forget to add the date to your diary, I’ve added a facebook event so that you can join and get a reminder closer to the time (click here to pop over and join the event). I’ve written about the ‘Writers Live’ event before but we now know more about the line-up. I should point out that I previously posted a list of authors who would be attending but was mistaken about Jess Smith who unfortunately won’t be able to make it along this year. Apologies for my mistake.

For those who would like to join me and many other writers on the day, here’s the timetable:

‘Writers Live’ Saturday 22nd August 10am-3pm Strathearn Artspace:

cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmed10:00am: The day starts with me (John Bray). I’ll be reading from, and talking about, the first two books in the Jack Reusen series (click these links to find out more about ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘). I will also be reading an exclusive excerpt of (my still very rough draft of) ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’, so if you want a wee glimpse of what happens next you’ll need to come along.

bronte country10:25am: Peggy Hewitt: Peggy will be reading three of her children’s short stories which were commissioned BBC Children’s television. Peggy is also a real Bronte lover, you can get an idea of her work at her Amazon author’s page here. Probably her best known book ‘Bronte Country: Lives and Landscapes’ looks at the land that the Bronte sisters called home, and its history. Peggy is also one of only a handful of people who can say that they got to read about their own demise in the newspaper. You can read the retraction from The Telegraph and Argus here. It must have been a very odd experience for her, though she seemed to find the humour in it.

oatmeal_f6d37569e639d04c9762cbab553d1c4a10:45am: Margaret Bennet: Margaret is a writer, folklorist, ethnologist, broadcaster and singer. She has so many talents, and such a large body of work to draw on and is sure to bring something to ‘Writers Live’ which will be both entertaining and informative in equal measure. She will also be reading from her latest book: “We Are the Engineers!”

11:25am: Ann Petrie will be reading from her book about the 1920s rent strike

11:45/12 noon: Break for lunch (we’re leaving a bit of space to be safe)

HazelCover30June2015__38474.1439211779.1280.128012.45pm: Hazel Buchan Cameron: Hazel is a well noted poet and In 2014 she was the first Writer in Residence for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Moving away from poetry Hazel will read from her new book “Just Go In” which follows a seventeen year old as she sets off from a council estate near Glasgow to become a farm secretary in the East of Scotland. Her memoir spans the late 70s to the early 90s. “…Life is often stranger than fiction, and this story shows the fine line that is walked in relating true events whilst maintaining a believability.” (Hardeep Singh Kohli, comedian and chef)

FabulousBeast.2701.15pm: Patricia Ace (Poet): Partricia has a lovely, smooth yet disjunctive style to her work and her debut poetry collection ‘Fabulous Beast’ contains some intriguing and sometimes comical takes on some every-day or at least familiar scenes and scenarios. You can hear her read some of her own work by clicking this link. (As it turns out Partricia is also my mum’s yoga instructor, small world)

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1:35pm: David Cowan author of books on Ley Lines and the energies of the Earth will be talking about. Crieff’s secret societies and symbols.

1.55pm: Helen Grant: Helen will be reading from her ‘Forbidden Spaces’ trilogy of urban exploration themed thrillers set in Brussels and Ghent. Helen’s research for these books looked like a lot of fun, if you pop over to her Twitter account and look through the pictures you’ll see what I mean (warning, you’ll be clicking for a while). Helen is an international author and thriller extraordinaire who has enjoyed glowing reviews from The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Daily Mail.

2.25pm: Publishing talk with Q&A by Helen Lewis McPhee and Gonzalo Mazzei. Helen has worked with Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communications, and, currently Canongate Books. Gonzalo is from Grace Note Publications C.I.C, publisher of many the books listed here. They will both be there to talk about the publishing process and answer questions from would-be (and current) writers.

3pm: Finish: You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. (Actually you can stay, if you stick around you’ll catch a the concert that follows us, admission for the concert is £3)

So there’s a basic run down of the programme. There will also be the Jack Reusen window and competition over at Fun Junction to look forward to (click here for more information). The competition is a ‘design a Jack Reusen character’ competition which closes during the festival weekend, the winner will see their character feature in a short story to appear on this site sometime after the festival closes (and if I can manage I’ll try and fit it into one of the books so that the winner can see their character in print).

I look forward to seeing you along at the ‘Writers Live’ event, thanks for reading, all the best, John

When a character just won’t behave themselves

16820When I wasn’t paying attention the Wishmaster sneaked up and tried to take over when I was writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’. At first I didn’t mind having the opportunity to delve deeper into who he is and why he did what he did, plus he offered me a new way of introducing readers to the main plot of the book.

Rather than having Jack, or someone close to him, find out about some emergency or danger instead I was able to see how another (perhaps less virtuous) character might react. I’ve spoken about this in a previous post so I won’t go into it too much, but it was yet another occasion where a character starts to steer the story, and in this case the Wishmaster’s story was quite far removed from the actual plot. I had to reign him in, but there are times when it’s less obvious what should be done about a character who is misbehaving.

Between ‘the Fey Flame’ and ‘Spark of Dreams’ I noticed that Fynn seemed to become overly changeable; in fact he became a very slippery character for me to write for a while. Part of my reason for this was that I decided to try and consider Fynn as a real human being with all of the ego and complexity that would be involved. First I imagined how I would feel if two children who I was supposed to protect instead found themselves directly in harm’s way, and at that very point they dealt with that danger competently without my help.

All at once you would feel as though you had both failed to protect them and you would be faced with the worry that your help was uncalled for after all. I really wanted to convey the fact that Fynn just wouldn’t be the same after the events of ‘the Fey Flame’ but in initial drafts this made him appear much more troubled (and fairly messed-up) than he needed to be. Also I had to be careful not to touch on themes that might be a little heavy for a children’s book. I like to hope that I got that balance right in the end.

Another character who became increasingly difficult to deal with was Thea; the girl who can turn into a polar-bear. However, in her case I let it slide; the more I wrote Thea, the more I wanted to write Thea. She’s a great character to write and so, after having my suspicions confirmed by readers, I decided to allow Thea to really turn into a break-out character, and resolved to give her her own set of stories.

Some characters can be frustratingly disobedient or even outright attention hogs, however, you may occasionally find a character who really does deserve some kind of special treatment. It’s hard to tell just when exactly these moments are and even then it’s easy to make mistakes about which characters really deserve more time. To be honest I only really know if I’ve done the right thing once readers tell me what they think to a character.

I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is that a character deserves more space in your work if they can help move the plot forward whilst providing something unique that they, and only they, can provide. Even then it can be hard to decide when to stand back and say ‘no, that was all very interesting, but we’ve got to get back to the story now!’ After all you don’t want to lose sight of the point of your story and lose the plot.

Have you ever had to deal with a runaway character? If you’re not a writer then have you ever come across a character who you felt deserved more time in a work? Did you ever come across a character who you feel deserved less time?

As always thanks for reading, please feel free to comment here, on facebook, or over on Twitter, all the best, John