Tag Archives: writerslife

Getting serious about writing (wk3): Don’t scald yourself (plus book update)

We use a stovetop kettle. This is pretty rare here in the UK where most people use an electric one, but we have our reasons. Our kettle is the first stovetop kettle we’ve had and it took some getting used to.

(Kettles? What does this have to do with self-publishing/ my new book? Trust me I am going somewhere with this… However, if you just want an update on the new book, scroll down to ‘Book Update?’)

Back to kettles.

The main difference is that electric kettles rarely hold much heat once you empty them. Stove-top kettles don’t cool anywhere near as quickly. I didn’t realise this at first.

The thick cast-iron body of our kettle really holds heat. This is tricky for someone who drinks as much tea and coffee as I do. You see, I often finish a cup so quickly that I don’t make it back to my desk. When this happens I march back to the stove and refill that kettle for the next cup.

That’s where my problem started.

In my ignorance I was not aware that a hot stove-top kettle can turn tap water into instant steam; steam that rises up to meet the soft fleshy hand holding the handle directly above the opening. This isn’t enjoyable for said soft fleshy hand (or its owner). For weeks my kettle punished me for my quick return, for my overindulgence in hot beverages.

Then I found the knack; when you trickle the water in it hits the hot iron and evaporates quickly but if you blast that cold water onto the hot iron in a torrent the level rises too quickly to get heated through and magically not a plume of steam comes to eat at your fingers.

Yes John, your kettle (and you) sound pretty daft. What does this have to do with writing?

Why am I talking about steam and kettles in a post about writing and self-publishing? Well, it’s all to do with how you handle critical responses.

Prior to writing books my experience of critique primarily lay in school and higher academic settings. My work was the plastic kettle; simple, light, with no significant emotional weight. Even though my essays/ dissertations etc. were the result of hard work, in the grand scheme of things the work was only mildly important to me. You might say that it that cooled in my esteem quickly.

Criticism of an essay or a dissertation needs to be taken seriously, advice followed methodically with mental notes on how to avoid such mistakes next time. My approach to such criticism had always been to look through notes slowly, fixing mistakes with careful attention.

When I first received criticism about my books it offered an alarming contrast; not only was I still invested in what I had written, but it also had the emotional weight of being a part of me. It held its heat.

So, when I took that criticism and poured it gently over my work it burned unimaginably deeply. It stung and it made it hard to get down to the job of fixing mistakes. There were times during this ‘scalding’ process when I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for writing. Every red mark, every queried plot point, it scalded me. I wanted it to stop.

It didn’t take long for me to change my approach, to avoid being burned. However, that didn’t mean hiding from criticism. Instead, I came to realise that when it comes to more personal work, taking criticism has to be done in a big fast blast. Get in and get the job done. Puzzling over every comment will just hurt.

If you trust your beta-reader or your editor then look at their comment, fix the problem, and move on to the next point. Don’t linger long enough for it to even sting, just keep going, and eventually, you’ll find that the job is done; your book is better. What’s possibly more important is that you’re out the other end in a good state of mind. Unscalded, unscathed.

As I said in my HUGE how-to post on self-publishing last week, editing is vital. Those people involved in the improvement of your manuscript are indispensable. If you find someone who can make you a better writer hold on to them and most importantly take what they say seriously.

However, what I also should have talked about was the emotional toll that criticism can take. It can’t be denied, it can’t be avoided, but as I noted above it can be reduced. You can get used to constructive criticism and not let it drain you. It is possible to improve your book and still hold on to that desire to be a writer right up to the last page. Just do it quick, taking it slow on your manuscript will hurt.

Book update?

 

Last week’s step-by-step guide to self-publishing didn’t exactly leave me with much room to talk about the new book. I think I left a passing mention about reaching out to make contact with the people who make a project like this happen. However, that was pretty much all the progress update I had.

This week lets try and go into the reality of where I’m at. My beta reader is working through my draft chapter by chapter. This is great because I can launch into improvements in steps. Last night I started work on chapter 4 and I can already see the effect of an objective pair of eyes.

This book is the third in a trilogy arc but it’s also the launching point for a continuing series. This brings odd challenges with it, things I didn’t have to worry about it books one and two.

Completing the tale

Every book I write has to have an ending, a moment of emotional catharsis. To be honest, as a reader I have been known to drop a book series on book one if there isn’t something conclusive in that story. Book one doesn’t mean you can leave all the conclusions till book two or even three, the reader needs to feel as though they’ve read some form of ending.

That said, a series is made with the idea that some parts of the story will continue. You expect loose ends. I left loose ends in the first two books of my own series. Now I have to tie (some of) them up. This was not as easy as I had expected it to be. However, I think I got it. Time will tell if I’m actually right about this, as more chapters come back to me from my beta reader.

Setting a foundation

If I had just written a trilogy this would have been the end of my problems. However, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is more than this; it’s also the launching site of three other books (books that I’ve already written). This gives me the odd task of creating a sense of finality and conclusion whilst leaving that all-important dot…dot…dot… at the end.

One of the key things I had to look at in order for this to work is character development. For the most part, we as readers will get the bulk of our sense of catharsis from the characters emotional/personal arc.

The main characters have to be different, affected. After all the events of the book, I need to show that they’ve changed. Where possible I’ve tried to make this a good change, but where this hasn’t been possible I’ve at least tried to show that the differences in their personalities will have positive results.

However, to lead into the next books I also have to show that my characters aren’t quite the best versions of themselves just yet. To be honest, things got a lot easier when I realised how subtle this hint could be; a passive character might become more headstrong but that doesn’t mean they’re taking a completely active role (as opposed to a reactive role) in how they deal with the world.

Just like normal people in the real world, book characters can develop and change for the better or the worse, in big or small ways. I’ve had to embrace this sense of constant change in order to be able to finish book three comfortably, while still leaving room for the next instalments.

A Change of Plans

Another important update from this week is that I’m going to have to push back my publication date a little. I’m sorry to have to do this but I want the book to be its best. I’ve been talking to various people involved in the book. Their schedules in this slightly-locked-down, slightly-not-locked-down limbo we’re in are slowly filling back up (so is mine if I’m honest) so I’m having to work with what we can all manage.

As a result, my release date is still November but now it’ll be later on (possibly the last week or so). On a positive note, this might let me combine the release of ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ with the release of another wee side project.

It’s early days on whether this will work but if it does there might be a bonus release of something in early December (just in time for Christmas). I’ll keep the updates coming.

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As always, thanks for reading,

Hope writers and readers found something useful in this week’s post, please add any questions or comments in the comments section below,

All the best, John

 

Marcus: Chapter 21: The forgotten boy

Copyright Humphrey Bolton

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

Willow arrived at the stone circle at a sprint. There was barely a breath left in her but she recounted the message in minute detail to Tash:

“Tash! Marcus says ‘Get in the car. Everyone will be safe once you’re in the driving seat.’ He made it sound really important. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Tash looked at Willow, red-faced, exhausted, terrified:

“Willow get inside the stone circle. They can’t get to you here. We can talk about the message after.”

“Tash you need to go to the car. He was insistent. Please go to the car.”

Tash glanced round. Waiting, watching for the trap to reveal itself. Marcus had done this sort of thing before. She shook her head as she looked into Willow’s tear blotched eyes:

“Please Tash. It’s the only reason he let me go. He’s still got James. He has Theo as well. He has my son.”

Tash looked at her own kids, safe behind the barrier. Then to Willow’s little boy Harry sitting beside them, now stock-still with worry over his dad and big brother.

Tash grabbed Gordon’s car keys from her pocket and stepped over the boundary. For a single breath she hung at the edge one foot inside the circle. Then her feet were pounding on wet grass launching her forward. 

Only when she was in sight of the car did her mind wander to visions of ghoul-children waiting to grab her ankles. She focussed on the keys. On the lock. Trying to slide the metal into place. Her muddy, freezing hands. The keys slipping onto the ground. She allowed herself a quick glimpse around before trying again with the keys.

Sounds rippled around her, rustles in the trees and the bushes. Just the wind. Just the wind.

The key slid into place and the central locking gave a satisfying ‘thunk’ noise as all the doors opened in unison. Tash leapt inside and adjusted herself into the driving seat. She had no intention of going anywhere but she knew Marcus. There was something she had to do.

Her foot rustled against something on the floor. A plastic groceries bag. She lifted it onto her lap.

If the smell of sweet, peaty earth didn’t convince her the note sitting on top of the bones was more than enough.

It’s time. The first will wait to last. Always your friend, goodbye, Marcus

Tash remembered the odd way Marcus had turned up to gloat after each abduction. Preceding every visit the bags of bones had rattled. Tash had assumed it was some kind of magic equivalent of magnetism. But now she understood.

Marcus had topped up the bone stash bit by bit. All this time he had been on their side. But how would they know when it was time for his bones to meet the circle? Would there be some signal?

*

42AD ‘Victoria’ (Roman Name, original name lost to time) Damnonii stronghold (what is now Dalginross, 7 miles West of Crieff)

The Romans were winning. Their general, a legionary by the name of Magnus Gallum (the great Gaul) was unstoppable in battle. It was said that spears shattered on contact with his skin. That he could fight for days without rest. He was also said to be the oldest legionary warrior for hundreds of miles.

The Damnonii tribe had a theory about his power. Stories were told about a boy,  who, twenty-five years earlier had been taken to the healing stones to the east. It was said that the healing was broken, corrupted, by the arrival of a group of Romans.

The boy’s energy tangled with that of a Legionary warrior and he grew strong as the boy grew weak. The boy died in front of his parents. Wrapped in what he was wearing, he was buried near the stones.

The healers claimed that they could not undo this abomination. Could not break the boy’s energy away from the soldier’s. Though there would be a small chance perhaps once in each generation when the power of the stones grew to its strongest.

The time had come to test the healers’ theory. If children of his blood could take his bones it was thought that the spell might be broken and the great Roman ‘hero’ destroyed at last.

Four cousins put their names forward. They were young but quick and brave beyond measure. Full of the sureness of youth they set out for the healing circle.

It was a short trip, they were accompanied only by a small group of protectors. Their trip brought little to impede their way.

On their first night it is said that the spirit of their Uncle came to them. Still in the form of a boy. Confused about his fate but glad of their company he asked to stay with them. They explained everything to the spirit and he approved.

On the second night, with their Uncle’s help, they found his grave. His body was removed and preparations were made for the required ritual. The boy thanked them for his impending release.

That night their camp was raided by Roman soldiers. They killed the Damnonii watchman but the children, their other protectors, and their Uncle got away. The bones were left forgotten as they escaped. It is thought the soldiers took them for their own dark ends.

On the third night one of the children vanished. Their defenders doubled the guard and watched intently for Romans throughout the night.

Despite their efforts they could do nothing to prevent the loss of the second of the cousins. On the fifth day the group gave up their mission, choosing instead to protect the last two and to make their way home. Their route was interrupted by Roman barricades.

Hiding from view, they made a fireless camp. The dark drew in and with it went what little heat the day had brought. It was then that the ghost-child returned. He offered comfort to his remaining nephew and niece. He persuaded their protectors to leave the children in his care. It was the last they ever saw of them.

From that day forth the Damnonii in the area saw their number shrink by four children every twenty-five years. The Damnonii tribe were absorbed into the population of newcomers, and as the centuries passed their stronghold fell into ruin, eaten up by the surrounding countryside. Their descendants were left with nothing to inherit. Nothing that is but the ghost-child and the Roman.

*

30th November 2017, Crieff, Scotland (swirling around somewhere above the town)

Marcus had long forgotten his family. Two millennia could wipe clean even the most vivid of memories. However, when he looked into the faces of the ghoul-children chasing him, something clicked.

A sister’s nose, a brother’s brow, his mother’s cheek. Mr Thomas wasn’t lying, these were all that remained of Marcus’ family. In fact they were all that remained of Marcus’ life as a living, breathing, child.

For a moment he glimpsed bracken flying below his feet as he ran from his siblings. Laughter flew from his burning lungs, he was always too fast for them. For the briefest moment he could pretend it hadn’t gone wrong. The healing had worked. The Roman never came. He was home.

His nephew’s hand grasped his shoulder with crushing strength and Marcus was torn from his memories. He turned, hoping for some recognition, some kinship in the eyes of the boy who had his shoulder. There was recognition but those black eyes showed nothing but pure, over-brimming hatred.

“…you ruined us. Our people gone. Our home gone. Our language. You replace it with this Latin garbage that he forces us to speak. You make me sick…

Marcus twisted against the boy’s grip but he held fast. The others came alongside, grabbing at their Uncle. Marcus lost his footing and came down hard. There was no pain when they struck. Then the green smoke came. It flew up his nose, filled his throat and scratched at him from the inside.

From burning itch to cold ache, Marcus strained to escape. He let himself disperse. The black cloud always felt uncomfortable but that form offered a break from the pain. He swirled with the winds, all he wanted was to get away. To go home.

He had the smallest glimpse of a stone cottage, a peat fire leaving thick, sweet, smoke to wallow out. The smell was real, the cottage, real. Then it wasn’t.

He knew it was long gone. The best he had was a memory of a memory. A ghost-image of something pure and good he had once called ‘home’.

He had a different home now. One filled with sadness and regret but with triumph too. And there was joy. Moments with friends throughout generations. Good friends, good times. For better or worse, he knew where he belonged.

There was no real reason to suppose the old school could provide him with anything special. Any secret weapon. Marcus knew that these four children couldn’t kill him (after all, he was dead already). That didn’t mean he had any plans to let them catch him again.

A huge green cloud, putrid and rotten descended on the surface of the back playground. Marcus stood his ground and looked into their lifeless eyes:

“My favourite game was always ‘tig’, though I do like a game of hide and seek if given a chance.”

The others barely had time to respond before Marcus had flipped around and disappeared into the building behind him.

They took chase but even a two second head start can make a difference if you’re a ghost.

Marcus phased through walls and floors. It was a skill he had never seen the ghoul-children perform. It took some effort on his part to do it. He wondered if the others would tire themselves out trying.

Marcus got carried away. He went through one too many walls, too quickly, and collapsed on the floor of one of the classrooms. His head swam as he pulled himself up and looked for a ‘real’ hiding place.

There was no furniture left here. The place had been stripped as they moved the school into the new building. There were one or two build-in cupboards with sliding doors left. There just weren’t any in this classroom.

Marcus dragged himself along the floor and drew himself up to stand at the door out to the hall. He moved his head slowly, letting just one eye peek out into the corridor beyond.

Barely a speck of light made it into the corridor but it was enough to see that, for now at least, Marcus was alone.

He limped alongside the wall, leaning on it for support. None of the classrooms he looked in had what he needed. In the end he had to settle for a small room beside the gym hall. It had been a host of things but the last thing Marcus remembered it being was a ‘TV room’.

Not a single window looked in on this room, with the door closed Marcus could only count on his own blue glow too see by. He couldn’t risk it giving him away though. He forced the light away. Leaving his skin a dull green-brown in the shadows of the room.

The footsteps came quicker than expected. Marcus searched his memory. Was there another way out in this room. There was a door at the back but was that a cupboard or an exit?

He tested the door. Locked. He barely had the energy to stand. There was no way he could phase through before the steps reached the door to the hallway.

The soft, brushing sound of ancient leather footwear grew closer. Marcus slid to the floor, keeping his profile flat, and waited.

If Marcus still had a heart it would be in his mouth. If he still had a pulse it would have thrummed in his ears. Instead Marcus had to endure the icy silence, with no heart or pulse to keep him company. Nothing but the ‘brush brush brush’ of the footsteps outside.

Then they stopped. Nothing but the creaks of the old building cooling in the night were left. Though the footsteps had stopped Marcus knew that the feet that made them were still very much there.

He was a ghost too. He didn’t have to move. Marcus could lie on this floor all night. That idea grew more and more appealing. So much so that Marcus was caught off guard when the door handle squeaked.

Keep up with the story

Click here to read on to ‘Marcus: Chapter 22: The Gauntlet to the Golf Course’.

Social media feeds are an oddity. What you say can be seen by millions but it can also slip away and be missed with ease. I always post new chapters on social media (Facebook and Twitter) but there’s no guarantee that we’ll both be on at the same time.

With this in mind, if you’re enjoying ‘Marcus’ and you want to be sure you get a link to the newest chapter as soon as it’s out, you can also get an e-mail reminder by clicking this link. Mailing list members also get access to printable files so you’re not forced to read it all from a screen.

Thanks for reading, all the best, John

The Plague

I just wanted to add a quick wee note to say sorry for the delay on last week’s chapter of ‘Marcus’. I had everything set up last Saturday night but hadn’t sorted the formatting etc. yet. Unfortunately, since Sunday morning, I’ve been hit down with some horrible flu thing.

Seem to be back to normal now. I don’t have a full new chapter of the Ogres to share yet but I should have everything back to normal by next Sunday. In the mean time I hope you enjoy this week’s (or last weeks’?) instalment of ‘Marcus’. It’s a chapter I’m really happy with and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, hope you enjoy it as much too.

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