Tag Archives: jack reusen and the Fey Flame

Falling for the Villain

438px-Villainc.svgNot long ago I had a twitter conversation with ‘Amber Medley‘ (a fellow NaNoWriMo writer). The basic idea was how to move forward in writing (tackling the dreaded writer’s block). I suggested a technique I use where I take a character out of the book and look at what they do in different settings.

Eventually the conversation moved on to how we draw believable characters, especially villains; viz. not writing a bad guy who just goes ‘Mwahahahah!’.

The interesting point that came up was the fact that the more human your bad guy gets, the easier it is to like him/her and, as a writer, you typically don’t feel you should like your villain.

I have a confession to make. Originally the primary villain of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (the ‘Wishmaster’) was going to be the overarching bad guy for the series. The ‘Wishmaster’ was to follow Jack throughout the book series, building in malice and in his capacity for harm in natural stages until Jack would have no choice but to face up to him in a huge final showdown.

This sounds dangerously close to the story of another non-magical boy who discovers he can do magic and faces off against a deadly foe. You can imagine my relief then when, at some point in November 2014, I sat down with a cup of tea, started my writing for the night and, for the first time, was properly introduced to my ‘Wishmaster’. I had gotten him all wrong.

He was still just as dangerous, still as malicious, and cruel, but then I started to realise what had brought him there; a need to share his gifts with others and his discomfort at finding that others actually got by fine without his gifts. He had grown resentful of these people’s lack of gratitude and I suddenly understood who he was and the story he needed to need to tell me.

I still couldn’t let him take over my first book, and I still needed him to take a back seat for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ but I made him bide his time. I knew his story now and I knew where he was going to have to go. He would remain a frightful memory for Jack and his friends for a while. After all, their story was just beginning. However, I was sure to set aside space in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ and, to an extent, in ‘Thea’s Quest’ (Book 4).

I grew to care for my villain and in doing so I grew to enjoy what I was writing a lot more. It gained more depth and I found it easier to connect with all of the characters (even bit players).

During my twitter conversation the other day ‘Amber Medley‘ pointed out the fact that she was worried about growing to like her villain but if I hadn’t grown to like mine I don’t know if the books would have moved forward at the pace they did. Perhaps sometimes it pays to like the villain.

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Write all day and you will realize 5 things about yourself that you never knew

Rock_balancing_(Counter_Balance)NaNoWriMo is here again and some of you are probably tired of hearing about it. Trust me it’s tiring on the inside as well. This is my third National Novel Writing event and it marks the writing of my fifth book set in a world that started to take shape only a year ago.

In my last post I talked a about the new book and explained a little about the support that’s helped push me on to write so much in such a short space of time. To absolutely anyone who has bought Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame you have no idea how much it means to me, and for those of you who have picked up a copy of the sequel, consider yourselves responsible for the barrage of books that are about to erupt out into the world.

When you sell copies of your first book there’s always a little voice in the back of your mind that wonders if people are just being nice. When you start selling copies of the sequel it makes you wonder if maybe they really do like to read what you’ve written. Thank you for that.

Anyway, on with the five things I’ve learned through plunging myself into this surprisingly demanding eventy. Here are some things that my last two NaNoWriMos have taught me:

Resilience: When you skip a day of writing it’s easy to beat yourself up over it but this just wastes time and energy that you could use to make up for lost time the next day. The first NoNoWriMo opened up my eyes to the fact that blaming yourself for a slip is utterly pointless, it’s happened. You just need to get back at it.

Time management: This is essential for the completion of a task like NaNoWriMo. After a few slips you start to discover what caused the problem and the vast majority of the time it has a lot more to do with expecting too much of yourself in too small a time-frame. Just because you wrote 1000 words in an hour a few times don’t use that as your gauge for how long it will take you to write 1000 words. Some passages need careful thought, some need extensive research just to get a place or character name just the way you want it. This will take time, don’t short-change yourself on time. Set aside an hour and a half a day to begin with, if you struggle to meet your target word-count add more time, if you speed through with keys blazing you could save some time on editing by going back over it then and there. Be fluid in time allocation but be persistent in working.

Commitment: In the middle of November last year I started calling myself a writer and actually meaning it but I knew that I’d be talking nonsense if I couldn’t even finish my first book. It was like a promise I made every time I said ‘I’m a writer’. Builders build, bakers bake and writers write. It was suddenly that simple. If you’re writing now and want to finish what you started a good first step is to commit to the moniker, call yourself a writer and mean it.

Confidence: You start off cautious, then you get a few thousand words in and suddenly it’s time to tell the world. You write blog posts. You post updates on social media. You tell friends and family. Then you sit down and freak out because you feel like they’re all expecting more of you. To be honest they probably aren’t (this tallies up with the final thing on this list) but this doesn’t stop the fact that you’re writing, you’re really doing it. All of a sudden there’s a new part to your personality, and it feels pretty awesome.

Being humble: This one is hard, for all the celebration of being a ‘writer’ you still need to remember that despite all the hours of work you put in there’s a good chance that the passage that you wrote at 3am after a marathon 5000 word day probably isn’t your best work. When the month is over you’re going to have a lot of work to do, admit that, drop the ego, develop some humility, and make something that you can actually be proud of. At the end of the day, if you can’t admit the faults that you can see in your own work then deep down you’ll never be able to tell yourself that you’ve done your best.

I’ve mainly written this post with fellow NaNoWriMo participants in mind and I hope it helps a bit. As you go through this month you’ll need to dig deep and what you find there will surprise you, but trust me it is utterly, unequivocally worth it.

As always thanks for reading, please feel free to ask questions or pop down a comment in the comments section below. All the best, John

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

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

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

Losing the plot

1470243032_a61e5f9309_oI don’t often put together a post on the way I write but every now and then I get asked by people about certain issues that all writers have to deal with. 

Plot and storyline are two key issues for writers of all types; often it’s hard to distinguish between a plot and a storyline as both are ‘stories’, and each can span the course of a book. 

Difficulties in distinguishing the difference can be at the heart of most of the problems that writers hit when they reach the half-way point in their work (often it’s what’s behind run-away characters and characters who don’t behave themselves).

We sometimes don’t notice that it’s happening until we’ve painted ourselves into a corner, but it is remarkably easy to end up treating a storyline like a plot and vice versa.

target-459833_1280A good rule of thumb is to generally understand storylines as contributors to the plot; think of the plot as whatever you could add after the words ‘we are gathered here today to hear the tale of…’. You need your work to have a point; only some very exceptional exceptions can draw a reader in with no hint of a plot, and often these authors can be recognised by a prose style that waxes lyrical and has you lost in description (think Virginia Woolf). 

In short, theirs is a style of writing that doesn’t always lend itself well to storytelling, if you intend to be a storyteller then, as obvious as it sounds, your first job is to tell a story.

The only times that exceptions can be made to allow non-plot-related storylines to take up space on your pages are either in cases where a small scene works as a precursor to a further book in a larger series or, very occasionally, a short storyline can be used to ease tension, teasing the way through the plot and allowing emotion to build and release naturally (it can’t all be build-up).

However, even in these exceptional cases readers can get lost and wonder why they’re suddenly being pulled away from the main story and here is where we lose the plot. Even these kinds of storylines can still be tied to the main plot, even if it’s done rather loosely. In short, if you’re going to lose the plot expect to have to do a lot of work to keep the reader on board.

Sometimes a storyline starts to take over, running in circles and dragging you kicking and screaming away from your main plot. The obvious answer to this is to backtrack and turn yourself back on course. 

In the vast majority of instances this is exactly what you should do (like me, you may even find that a chapter or so may have to be completely re-written or even deleted). However, very occasionally you might find that your new storyline has become more interesting than your original plot, and here you have a dilemma.

Dalian_zoo_bear_cages,_1997The reader will never know what you’ve done. Thanks to the drafting/editing process, you can easily go back and make it look like that this storyline was the real plot all along (warning: this approach can take even more time in editing than would have been spent if you simply remove the diversion, so use this approach carefully). 

Early on in writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ I ended up with two plots; basically I was worried that I didn’t have enough to do fill the book so I over-planned with a huge plot (too much to fit into a 35,000 word book) and a storyline that grew so large that it became big enough to function as a plot in its own right. A book never benefits from two true plots, it ends up with two masters who often want entirely different things.

I had made my life much harder than it needed to be; in the end I settled on the idea that the larger plot could be left in the background, setting the scene for the books to follow, whilst the exciting one (the Wishmaster) could be brought out to the front and take centre stage. 

I don’t regret that decision for a second as the Wishmaster has had a great reception from readers, what’s more he provided a host of opportunities for me to show off my characters in exciting and interesting ways that just weren’t going to happen otherwise.

You’ll be able to tell for yourself whether you’re looking at a storyline, a plot, or an overarching series theme/plot. It’s not hard, storylines contribute to character development but plots really change people (and sometimes the world in which they live), and an overarching plot is like a quiet pull drawing your story to a penultimate conclusion over the course of many books (in itself it may be less exciting, but will typically be more interesting, than the plots of individual books).

The Wishmaster returns in book three and he definitely tried to steal the show again as I was writing him. He’s a big character who’s not made many friends so the ripples of his arrival were difficult to smooth over. All the same the main plot is bigger than him and will likely be the launching platform for many more of the books set in Jack’s universe, so I had to reign him in tightly.

I’ll also need to have a serious think about whether to let him show up very much in Thea’s books for that exact reason, but at the same time I like him, I enjoy writing him, and when book three comes out I hope you get some enjoyment out of what I’ve done with him.

jack reusen cover front2I am by no means an expert but I hope that what I’ve shared here helps others to avoid some of the headaches I’ve experienced while writing.  

Believe it or not I don’t have a huge step-by-step plan when writing but I have learned that there is literally no point in writing something that’s all storyline; a book needs a point, it makes your job as a writer simpler, but vitally it also makes it easier for readers to engage with your work. 

It is so simple but also so important that you learn not to lose the plot, or at the very least that when you do lose the plot you do so on purpose and are prepared for the consequences.

If you have anything to ask, or any hints of your own to add, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John