Author Archives: John the Toy Shop Guy

About John the Toy Shop Guy

I'm the author of the 'Jack Reusen' series of books. You can find a link to the website below. When I'm not writing I work in a fairly small local toy shop and run two other blogs: one about my thoughts on toys, people and life in general (johnthetoyshopguy) and another that follows my sporadic writing schedule (slowauthor). Thanks for stopping by my profile and please feel free to say hello over on any of my blogs, Cheers, John

It’s hard to say goodbye…

One of the hardest experiences when writing a new book stems from the connections you make with a new collection of characters. As some characters inevitably don’t behave the way you expect, you can’t help but like them as a result.

Part of the process of creating a convincing individual involves a close focus on character motivation. After drafting a moderately coherent plot you’ll inevitably realise that a character needs more motivation to follow your plot than they start with. This can lead to reworking the story.

Part of this process includes writing extra scenes that deepen your character’s personality in order to explain their actions and choices. This extra familiarity with the character typically leads you to feel more connected to them.

The fear creeps in

With this in mind I’m now nearking the end of my newest book and I am definitely apprehensive about saying goodbye to a few of my characters. This creates an odd tension for me as a writer because I obviously want to take the story through to its natural conclusion, but I also don’t want to say goodbye to these characters.

This particular book is set to become another stand-alone title (like Marcus was) which means there will be no going back to revisit old friends. For a reader the book may only represent a few hours of reading but my experience is markedly different.

How long I’ll spend with these characters

I’ll spend a month (possibly more) on this first draft and the second draft could take another few months. After this I’ll get someone to pass an objective eye over it, before using their responses to create a third draft.

At this point I may even pass copies to ‘beta testers’ to check readability and appeal, taking their feedback to work out a fourth draft. Then I have a final formatting draft to get page alignment, fonts, etc.

When all is said and done I will have spent between a year and eighteen months on this book. More than a year getting to know these characters, honing my picture of them, and gaining sympathy for who they are and why they behave the way they do.

All of this means that by then I may even ‘know’ some characters (as much as knowledge is the correct term for facts about fictional people) better than some friends or more distant family members.

One of the tougher jobs

As you can imagine, it’s hard to go through so much with someone and then say goodbye forever, but at its core that’s my job. In the grand scheme of things it’s not exactly the hardest job in the world to do, but I can’t pretend there isn’t a wee pang as I write the final lines.

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo tomorrow and thankfully I’m on target for my 50,000 word total (though the book will be a little longer than this in the end). It’s definitely worth being excited about but I can’t deny that it’s also a little bittersweet.

Soon I’ll be saying goodbye to a new character that I’ve grown really attached to. She’s pretty great actually. The one silver lining is that once I get her out into the world and more people get to know her, she’ll get that little bit more real. I’m looking forward to introducing her sometime in 2020/21.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

A whole new world!

This month I’m visiting a place that no human being has ever set eyes on. I have a rough itinerary set out and I know a little about what to expect of the place but that’s all I have.

This marks the sixth year that I’ve done this sort of thing and every time I do, I begin my journey with just as little planning and organisation. The freedom is exhilarating and those seven years have changed my life. I can’t imagine ever skipping this ritual now.

I should probably explain this better: I haven’t booked a trip to a remote part of the world. I don’t intend to become the next Bear Gryls. In fact all my travel will take place sitting down in my office and my ‘travel agent’ is an organisation called ‘NaNoWriMo’.

NaNoWriMo?

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll have heard me talk about NaNoWriMo a few times.

If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo before then I’ll try a one sentence explanation: NaNoWriMo or ‘National Novel Writing Month’ is a community-based event for writers (both total amateurs and professionals) in which each member is supported on their way to creating a full novel/50,000 words within the month of November.

With the support of the NaNoWriMo community I’m currently writing my tenth novel (sixth NaNoWriMo novel). The final stretch is in sight. It will be hard, I will exhaust myself (and probably my family too as I run ideas by them).

Loads of support for writers

This is as close to a creative version of a marathon as I can imagine, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Not only are there message boards on the NaNoWriMo website itself but you can also call on writer’s support over on Twitter by following the hashtag #NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve missed your chance to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, you don’t have to wait all the way till November 2020. NaNoWriMo also has regular virtual writers ‘camps’.

As with the November NaNoWriMo these are free to participate in (though they welcome donations) and the community is there to help motivate you, console you, and help in countless other ways.

You can follow these links to find out more about both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. (Note: Currently the links seem to bring you to the same site.)

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Friends Of Old St Michael’s Children’s Book Day

This Sunday (25th August, at 12:30) there’s a great children’s books event along at Old St Michael’s Church Yard in Crieff. Positioned right on the site of Crieff’s first ever school.

Somewhere to enjoy a last wee taste of summer

The old school building has been gone for a while but it’s nice to be in touch with a bit of the town’s history; standing where it once stood.

As it looks now it’s a bright, open, grassy spot under a bit of tree cover. It’s a space that a lot of people in the town don’t know about but thanks to the work of the ‘Friends of Old St Michael’s’ it’s looking lovely and fully equipped for all sorts of events (and don’t worry there is cover if we get a spot of rain, they have a marquee set up ready).

Something fun to make back to school a little easier

The whole of Sunday’s event is family-friendly and there’s loads to do while you’re there. Learn to write with a real quill (like Harry Potter!) with Library of Innerpeffray, or listen to a story from an expert Storyteller. You can also travel through time with artefacts from Perthshire’s past from medieval times and the Victorian era.

Along with this you can participate in various art activities and enter a book review competition by sharing a review of your favourite story (with some GREAT PRIZES FOR THE BEST TALK).

And Little Old Me!?

So why am I telling you all of this? Self promotion obviously. I’ll be there as well, talking about the Jack Reusen books and about story-craft (and there might be a free book or two as well).

As you might know from previous posts, I offer bookwriting workshops in schools and I always love to hear what sorts of stories kids have locked up in their heads. I won’t be running a workshop on Sunday but hopefully we’ll get kids excited about writing their own stories, told from their own unique perspective on the world.

If you want to be kept up to date about the event (and you’re on Facebook) you can either mark yourself down as ‘interested’ or ‘going’ on the Facebook event page. That way you’ll be notified of any changes or other updates (plus it helps me feel good to know we’ve got a good crowd along 😉 ). It’s always good to support these sorts of events when they apear in town, hope to see you along on Sunday.

All the best,

John

Horror at Ruthvenfield Primary School!

ruthvenfield primary school book writing workshop ruthvenfield's portal to the nineteenth 19th century author john bray perthshire scotlandOver the past few months, I’ve been working on an exciting new project with pupils from Ruthvenfield Primary School. Pupils from their p6/7 class have worked long and hard to create their very own book titled ‘Ruthvenfield’s Portal to the 19th century’.

I didn’t want to post about it until it was all ready. There can be a lot of changes to a book even after a first draft is completed so I felt that it was best to wait until they were ready to share their creation.

I just got back from a wee event they put on today in the forest that features in chapters three and four of their book. (I even got a wee thankyou from the kids written in sticks in some eco-art they worked on this afternoon).

Now that the book is here I’m so glad to finally get the chance to share what we’ve been up to.

More than a one-off workshop

One of Ruthvenfield’s pupils read one of my books (‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘) and his mum suggested to the headteacher (Sarah Burke) that she get in touch. Initially, I was happy to put on an ordinary book talk for World Book Day but Mrs Burke asked me if I would like to do a workshop as well.

I’ve always wanted to try something a bit different when it comes to workshops. I thought that it would be good to have the pupils themselves put in all of the work; creating their own book from start to finish, illustrating, editing, and marketing it. As far as I could see this was the best way to let them feel invested in their work.

This sharing of the workload also helped them demonstrate excellent teamwork. The project was a little ambitious, as it tied in a creative writing project, with young enterprise components, as well as a degree of community engagement/PR/marketing elements. I knew from the start that we were asking a lot of the pupils but they seemed up for it.

Exceeds Expectations

The pupils put together something fantastic. They’ve surprised me often, not that I had low expectations, it’s more that I knew this would be a challenge and they’ve met that challenge and gone above and beyond.

I left as many decisions as I could in the hands of the pupils. During our initial workshop, we listed genres and subjects on the board (nominated by the pupils) and they voted for their favourite; a horror story, focussing on relationships (both enemies and friends), set in their own school.

From this moment on they seemed extremely connected to their book (once the writing itself began one pupil, off ill, even logged in to the shared editing system and worked on his chapter). Miss MacKenzie (the p6/7 teacher) noted that they were all highly motivated to make their book as good as it could be.

About the book

I had the enjoyable task of looking over their work and offering editorial comments. It is a genuinely fun (and scary) read. It follows a group of classmates as they are flung into another time with a set of tasks to complete. If they fail they will never be allowed to return to their own time.

It’s a unique story with a perspective on primary-school-aged children that is both enlightening and very honest (because it’s written by primary school children). The book was divvied up with chapters written by small groups of pupils.

Despite the shared workload, they had a structured book plan and character maps for their main characters so the overall tone of the book is coherent and makes for an accessible read. I’m probably biased but I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy.

Copies are available from the school at the end of the day tomorrow (27th June), or from Fun Junction in Perth and Crieff. Priced at £4, it’s a great summer read for anyone aged eight and up.

For Teachers/Group Leaders/Educators (Obligatory Self-promotion)

This was a new take on my usual school visits but one that I feel went very well. If you would like to run something with your own class/group please get in touch.

The full writing task from the first workshop to a finished, printed, book should take around two months. If you would like to have a finished book completed in time for the Christmas holidays I’d recommend getting started soon after the beginning of the Autumn term.

I still have dates available for initial workshops in September and I’m happy to discuss additional details and requirements. You can reach me by e-mailing: jackreusenbooks@hotmail.com

All the best, John

 

How does a Writer make money?

Many don’t. I didn’t for the first five years or so. However, I stuck at it, I kept the day job going but put in consistent writing time too. It isn’t an easy route to being a full time writer (and if I’m honest I’m not 100% there yet myself). All the same, it does seem to work. Step by step, book sale by book sale, copy-writing job by copy-writing job; I am getting there.

But what does it mean to be a full-time writer?

This is where I have to draw the distinction between ‘writer’ and ‘author’.

The real end goal (for me at least) is to be able to write books full-time. This is when I’ll comfortably start calling myself an ‘author’.

For now I’m a ‘writer’ and to be honest I’m pretty happy with that. There’s a lot of interesting work to be done in the sort of wordplay and language use that I’m employed to do as a copywriter.

It makes me a better writer by forcing me to acknowledge the real effects of the words I write (occasionally these are even real-time effects).

What’s more, it allows me to meet more people from more walks of life. I’m reminded daily that it’s important to meet as many people as possible if I want to write believable characters.

So many people, so many characters

My own copy-writing work puts me face to face with dozens of different people on a weekly basis. I’m writing a lot of blog posts and other copy about local businesses in my area.

Our conversations often encompass hopes and dreams, the development of rare and unusual skills, and how they feel about what they do.

It’s a rich experience in character and in stories. Every business is a story, every owner or manager has their own dreams for that business.

They are so passionate about such different things, they know about worlds that I have never encountered; from equestrian husbandry, to jewelry making, to the challenges and triumphs of running a social enterprise.

I wouldn’t dream of simply inserting one of these people directly as-is into my books. It would feel wrong for some unplacable reason. All the same, I pay attention. They are such interesting people.

An entrepreneurial spirit seems to draw them together but their own loves, skills, and passions set them apart from one another. I would be foolish not to see this as a chance to understand a lot more about what makes for a gripping character.

I often get asked about how a writer makes a living, but I’m starting to see that making a living can also go a long way to making me a better author.

But how do I make money?

Here’s the big question. I’m not sure how to answer it simply. I have a background in retail, accademia, and I have a small amount of experience in town management. I’ve used this to set myself up as a freelance copywriter. I’ve got a growing list of contacts who know what I do and know they can contact me to create copy of a certain standard when they need it.

There’s not much room in that sort of business for being introverted (unless you have someone fighting your corner for you). This means that a fair bit of my month is spent chasing down content for clients and looking at new avenues which might bring me more work.

Writing with pen on paperIn short I’m a self-employed writer but a lot of my time isn’t spent writing; it’s spent with people. I interview people for blog content. I visit people to see if they need the services I offer. I try to figure out how to write things that will catch people’s attention. I like people, and I enjoy being sociable, so this isn’t a problem for me.

However, if you suffer from social anxiety or anything similar this path might not work for you. Here would be the stage to look at your list of talents to see which might combine to make writing a source of income. Perhaps a podcast would work for you, perhaps writing reviews for products, movies, music, or books.

There are places where you can apply for a ‘job’ as a writer, some of these jobs might be brilliant, I don’t know. All I do know is that so far I’ve personally found more fulfillment from doing things this way.

On top of the copywriting I also do author talks in schools about my books and about writing in general. This probably isn’t as lucrative as the copywriting but these talks are the times when I get to feel like an ‘author’. It’s me at my most celebratory about creativity.

You need to find a balance where you find a way for your writing to pay, where you still feel like you’re being creative, and where it makes sense (to you) in tems of money earned and time spent. If you’re aiming for this life, I sincerely hope you find a way to make it work.

I hope this post helps. It’s a question I get asked a lot (at school talks etc.) and this is a rough summary of my usual answers.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comments section below (or over on Twitter, or Facebook)

 

Reminding an Author about writing: Visiting Braco Primary School

This post is long overdue. I normally like to post about a school visit within a few days but I’ve been swamped with writing/book related work over the past couple of months.

Finally, I have a little breathing space so I thought I’d pop on and talk about my visit to Braco Primary School.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to the whole school. The children were brilliant, welcoming, and they asked some really interesting, and surprising, questions (like ‘Do you talk about ethics in your books?’ and ‘How does an author make money?”).

Everyone likes a story

multi colour rainbow shoes john bray author crieff perthshireI don’t always talk to younger year groups, as the Jack Reusen books are aimed at children aged 7 years and up. However, I came prepared with a wee story I wrote a while ago called ‘Drip the Bogey Ogre’ (you can read the whole thing by clicking this link). The primary ones and twos were lovely and we had a fun five minutes or so talking about my shoes as well (I wore my multi-coloured shoes).

From there I went on to talk to the older school. There seems to be a collection of would-be authors in the older school and they all had questions about improving their writing and about aspects of the writing process like motivation and inspiration.

I hope I didn’t sound too repetitive but one thing I kept going back to was the fact that writing is like exercise; you need to do it regularly to be in good shape, and you have to have good quality ingredients to put into it.

With writing, you get out what you put in

Just as a healthy body comes from regular exercise and good nutrition, so too does a healthy capacity for writing come from writing regularly and consuming only good quality books.

These sorts of things always have more impact when you use an example. I shared an experience from when I was writing ‘Marcus‘ last year. At the time I hadn’t written a horror story for young adults (12 and up) before so I started reading around to get a feel for the topics and limits associated with that age group.

Some books I read were fantastic but there was one (it will remain nameless) that was less so. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story but I didn’t see what it was doing to my writing until editing time came along. It turns out that the chapters I wrote whilst reading this particular book were some of my worst, characters grew flat and I found it hard to get my bearings. Much editing was needed before they went public.

This was my takeaway advice for Braco Primary’s writers; do everything you can to make sure that what you are reading is good. Combine this with paying attention to the world around you in your own way. Understanding what your own point of view is will enable you to find your own voice. However, you’ll find that, only by reading work by experienced and talented authors, will you be able to make that voice as articulate and coherent as it can be.

Thank you for the enthusiasm boost!

Not only was my visit to Braco Primary an enjoyable one but their questions and enthusiasm for writing gave me a much-needed boost in the midst of this year’s NaNoWriMo (something that’s always welcome).

Thanks again for having me Braco Primary. I hope you enjoy the first two Jack Reusen books and I hope to have book three ready in the near future.

It’s Here!!!!

On 31st October I received a delivery, one that I’ve been anticipating for a while. I have to admit it’s a little eerie that a dark fantasy/ horror story would be delayed so that it arrived exactly on Halloween but that’s how it went.

So… ladies and gentlemen boys and girls…may I introduce to you the print version of ‘Marcus’.

Set in Crieff, Perthshire, over varying time periods, this story follows the disappearance of numerous children, leading the reader to the slow realisation that something really isn’t right about Marcus.

From frenzied beginnings

I started writing Marcus exactly a year ago to the day. This book was a departure from my usual. My other books are fantasy stories but they’re all part of the same series centred around a boy called Jack Reusen.

These books are aimed at children from primary 3 (around 7 years old) and upwards. Aside from the fantasy and (some) locations, there’s only one real thing that ‘Marcus’ has in common with these books.

Every book I’ve written has been the result of a writers community called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Every November I disappear into my computer and craft a new story. NaNoWriMo pushes writers to complete 50,000 words in one month. So far I’ve never failed (which still surprises me) but I can’t pretend it’s easy keeping the pace to write that much in just thirty days.

In 2017 I decided to try my hand at something new. Not only was I going to write a darker, older, book. On top of that, I was going to use short punchy chapters to allow me to publish it as a serialised novel.

Tuning in each week

I can’t thank those who read my serialised version of Marcus enough. Knowing I had people ‘tuning in’ to catch the next installment each week kept me on my toes and forced me through the editing process (editing is something I’ve never enjoyed very much).

I felt supported in a way I haven’t before during the run-up to a book release. That’s why I felt so guilty when an oversight on my part led to a month delay on the publication of this book. To everyone who has asked about when the books would be here, I am so happy to finally be able to say ‘now’.

A wee party

I’ve sold my other books at Fun Junction in Crieff and Perth for years. They have given me a ridiculous amount of support and now to top it all they’ve volunteered both shops for book-launch events for ‘Marcus’.

I’m planning on hosting the first one in Crieff (it is the setting of the book after all). More than that; the bulk of my support has come from readers around Crieff so I want to make it easy for people to come along.

I’ll get some food and drinks on and we’ll make a night of it. If you would like to come along please let me know (Facebook message, Twitter, leave a comment below, or simply send up smoke signals, whatever works). I’ll do everything I can to keep you up to date on the details of the book launch.

Fun Junction Perth will be running a late night opening on Thursdays so I’ll also run a slightly different event through there as well.

It’s such a relief to finally have the books in my hands and I really hope you like the print edition (it has some changes from the web version). Please leave any comments or questions you like. I always like hearing from readers.

Once again, sorry for the delay, and thank you for bearing with me for so long,

All the best, John

P.S. Now I’m off to start another NaNoWriMo. I’m returning to familiar ground. Looking forward to getting back up to speed with a certain wee boy, a shape-shifting polar-bear girl, and an ‘owl man’ who always knows what to do. Wish me luck! 😉