Tag Archives: author

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

Lore

Sometimes we struggle. Motivation fails us. I got a taste of that recently as I neared the 30,000 word point in my latest book. Knowing that I was writing horror a friend (thanks Jo!) recommended I check out a podcast called Lore.

Humans are the real monsters

Lore is a fortnightly podcast (or web radio programme for those who prefer that term) that discusses the paranormal, the odd, the unpleasant. However, its primary focus seems to be the darkness that dwells in us all. The selfish voice, the creature that panders to fear, the red eyed monster of rage; all of these are distinctly human, distinctly internal, monsters.

Listening to tales of Lore drew me to that dark place, allowed me a closer view of those nastier human foibles that are the true basis of horror. Aaron Mahnke (the host/researcher/creator of Lore) introduces the listener to a selection-box of human awfulness. From the true story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin (NOT for children or the faint of heart), on to multiple tales of witch hunts through the ages, to the story of H. H. Holmes, a conman who created, and utilised, a hotel full of secret passageways and an underground ‘lab’ for his own sick ends (this hotel has since gained the name ‘The Murder Hotel‘).

The events in ‘Marcus‘ don’t come close to the horrors Mahnke describes in his show (for starters mine is pure fiction). However, I’d like to give credit to Lore, and Mahnke himself. He produced something that offered a custom set of blinkers for this first-time horror writer at those times when sitcoms, kids books, and social media, threatened to draw me away from my writing.

More to learn

There’s something else that Lore helped me see though. Mahnke persisted, every two weeks he got another solid bit of work out into the world. Well rehearsed, well researched, well performed. You can go back to the very first podcast and see the show evolve, gain a following, and importantly offer Mahnke the recognition he deserves.He made something people enjoyed and the world rewarded him. It’s an important takeaway whenever you come across this sort of creativity. The word ‘inspiration’ is banded about a lot, it has transient, insubstantial overtones. Instead I would say that Mahnke’s efforts provide more confirmation than inspiration.

Listening my way through the first episodes gave me confirmation that the right content, found by the right audience, and offered up consistently, will yield positive results.

Mahnke has his own Amazon TV series now (based on the podcasts) but he has also demonstrated his mastery of storytelling through the podcast in a way which has allowed him to market his own writing. Author of a host of books, and clearly working purely within a field he enjoys. What he has done has given me confirmation that all the slog is worth it.

Thank you Aaron.

Why listen to Lore?

Simply put it’s fascinating (if disturbing in places). Often we hear that the world has ‘gone to the dogs’ or that society is being eroded by one modern creation/concept or another. A step back in time (and in some cases it’s an uncomfortably short step back) is enough to show us that human beings have always found ways to be awful to each other.I’m not trying to suggest that we’re living in a golden age but lore can take the rose tinted glasses off of the reminiscence to ‘yesteryear’. We get by, we look after one another, we do what we can to help one another. The stories in Lore highlight this as well. It’s in our nature; the flip side of our darker internal demons.

Watch the news and you can be forgiven for thinking that we live in an age of terror. I find it odd that comfort can be found to remedy this perspective by looking at the horrors of the past.

I hope you take a moment to pop by the Lore podcast page and give it a try yourself (and no I’m not being paid to promote it/endorse it/otherwise send traffic his way).

As always thanks for reading, and feel free to pop back and tell me if you enjoyed the podcast,

All the best, John

When I grow up I want to write stories

Words come easily to some people. Even at a young age it’s easy to spot those children who will never struggle to be heard or understood. I wasn’t one of these children.

The simplicity and directness of language fascinated me. However, I made things hard on myself. I favoured ‘big words’ because they seemed to convey so much in such a short space of time.

For me ‘big words’ really were ‘simple’ words. It took me many years to see where I was going wrong.

Despite the seeming directness that a broad vocabulary offered, what I was really doing was alienating my peers.

Words are more complicated than I realised at the age of eight or nine. All the same, knowing what a change in word use can do makes it easier to tailor my speech and writing now.

At five years old I loved to write stories (you know the kind: you draw and colour it in (stay inside the lines!), then write a sentence underneath to make sense of it all). Teachers would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and the answer always shifted between ‘archaeologist’ and ‘story writer’.

Eventually my love for dinosaurs was surpassed by my desire to be understood and to entertain. By my teens I had firmly decided on ‘writer’ as the end game.

It would be easy to say that I’ve always wanted to be a writer but it’s not quite true. My real motivation was to reach a point where people’s eyes wouldn’t glaze over as I spoke to them.

I would let myself hope to be interesting or entertaining but most of the time I’d settle for people remaining focused after 30 seconds.

As I entered university I also started to approach the idea of conveying ‘big ideas’. However, when I became a parent I realised that sometimes you can show big ideas with some very small actions.

The Jack Reusen books are wrapped around family and magic but the ‘big ideas’ are hidden behind that.

How important is comfort/safety? Can a full life be had without stepping away from the familiar?  Who should have power? Does power imply a duty to do right by those who do not have it? Should ‘dangerous’ knowledge be locked away/hidden from others?

My desire to become a writer can be confusing to some. However, far more people seem able to sympathise with a desire to be understood.

Did you struggle to be understood as a child? Do you find that writing helps you get past that? Perhaps you found a different form of expression. If so, what was it? Do you find that voice helpful/therapeutic?

As always, thanks so much for stopping by this page. All the best, John

Free Author talks for schools

free book talks author scotland perthshire john bray jack reusen

I recently passed my driving test (at the tender age of thirty-five). The surest motivation in the weeks leading up to it was school book talks. I’ve ran school talks before but I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to get to the talk on foot, by bus, or on more than one occasion I managed to wangle a lift from a teacher (thanks Mr Scoogle!).

Now I’m fully mobile. I can get to the most remote little primary school in the middle of nowhere if I’m asked to. It’s a wildly freeing feeling and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

I’m aiming to have a new batch of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (book 1) printed up over the next few weeks and then I’ll be all set for book talks wherever the call is issued (within reason). For this reason my schedule will mean that the first talks will take place some time in October.

I’m based in Perthshire (Scotland) and I don’t charge for book talks but I do fund them by selling copies of the Jack Reusen books at the talks themselves. I can set up a pre-order option for teachers so that pickup and signing etc. is as smooth as possible.

However, I’m also happy to turn up on the day with a batch of books. That said, pre-order ensures that I have enough books on hand at the talk (I can also pre-sign books to help reduce wait time after the talk is finished).

Talks can be themed around the methodology of writing, book production, story-telling, research, or I can simply talk about the books (this allows me to cater to classes from primary 3 and upwards). I’m also happy to discuss a more regular visit schedule for things like writing or book making workshops (though I may have to charge a small fee for these to cover travel, and resources, etc.)

If you would like me to visit your class (or other children’s group, club, or organisation) to talk about writing and stories please get in touch using the form below. I look forward to hearing from you. All the best, John

Questions to make your brain whizz at Viewlands Primary School

viewlands primary school perth scotland

I was recently invited to talk about writing at Viewlands Primary School in Perth as part of their programme of activities for Book Week Scotland. I spoke to four year groups (primaries 4, 5, 6, and 7) and each year group contained two classes which added up to about sixty kids at each talk. It was taxing, enlightening, but most of all it was a lot of fun. Each age group had their own ideas and their own questions.

scottish book week free author talk

I was asked about the work involved in writing a book, the methods I use to develop a character, I was asked why I picked the fantasy genre, what my favourite books are, and hundreds of other equally interesting questions.

On top of this some of the older children were interested in the practical elements of writing; we discussed the fast-paced first-drafting I do as a result of my connection to National Novel Writing Month. This gave me a chance to describe some of the difficulties I’ve faced in the past in regards to forward planning (or the lack of it).

viewlands primary school perth scotland

I think the teachers were pleased to hear me sharing some important lessons I’ve learned about forward planning and the difficulties of redrafting rushed areas of my work that don’t contribute to the overall story (I get the feeling that planning ahead is something teachers have to remind pupils about a fair bit).

It was an exhausting and massively fulfilling experience and I’d like to thank Mr Scoogal and all of the other teachers for inviting me along on the day. I had an absolute blast and I hope the children did too.

nanowrimo national novel writing month

I wanted to post about this weeks ago but I’ve been tied up in yet another bout of National Novel Writing Month (guess I’m a glutton for punishment). NaNoWriMo is once again over (I completed my word-count of 50,000) and life is finally going back to normal.

The month was tough and some things I tried in my writing turned out to be a bit of a waste of time. One activity in November definitely wasn’t a waste of time and I’m extremely grateful to all the staff and pupils for the wee injection of energy I got right smack dab in the middle of the writers equivalent of a marathon.

Thanks for popping along to read this, feel free to scroll down to see more posts on writing, and thanks again to all the staff and pupils at Viewlands for having me along, all the best, John