Sunday, 18 November 2012


I first started writing back in 2000, without any clue why I had the sudden urge to put words onto a screen. For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of action films. My first was Die Hard. I was 12 years old when my brother brought it home to watch over his weekend break from university. My parents were invited to a wedding on the Saturday, and so big brother had babysitting duty. Myself and my sister (mercy on her soul) were a little bit rowdy, so he decided he would try to scare the wits out of us with the block-busting Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis as the quick-witted John McClane. It had the opposite effect, unfortunately, though it did keep me quiet, owing to how riveted I was on the story. I guess I have my brother to thank for setting me on the path to writing, for I'm not sure whether, later in life, the film would have impressed upon me as much as it did on a 12-year-old boy.

I remember the suspense, the sense of fear, and being so engrossed in the story that I can today still recall almost every line of dialogue spoken. So it made sense that my first piece of writing began as a film script. Back then, it was my dream to make a blockbuster. I was, and still am, a film buff. At that time in my life, I wasn't a huge reader. Truth be told, I hadn't read much since finishing high school. So you can imagine my surprise when my film script metamorphosed into a novel manuscript. Granted, I had learned that making a film cost serious money, and I would need actors, producers, cameramen, etcetera. I just didn't have the passion to make any of that come to be, but I had a very active imagination and needed to find some way of expressing it. I finished the first draft of The Job in December 2002, a story about two ordinary men caught in the whirlwind of a terrorist attack and forced to become essentially heroes. I knew the writing wasn't great. The ideas were all there, but the nuts and bolts needed to be honed. So I tossed the manuscript in my drawer and started work on the sequel. The Hunter's Prey came to be 16 months later in mid-2004. Again, the ideas were all there but the execution lacked. Number two was also consigned to my drawer, and I started work on the third -- another direct sequel. Chasing Shadows remains my favourite piece of work to date. Technically there will be better pieces of writing (I hope!) in the future, but my third novel was an absolute blast to write. I finished it in January of 2005, and I could see clearly the difference between it and the first novel. The writing was beginning to take shape. I thought nothing of it and quickly got to work on #4 after a couple months' break. Acts of Treason, to date my biggest novel, stalled at 311,000 words. It remains in the Novels (In Progress) folder on my computer. Close friends and those in the know about my writing often speculate that maybe it was getting too big and I couldn't tie all the storylines together. Or maybe I grew bored with the telling of it. If only either of those were true.

In the early part of 2006 I had an extreme crisis of confidence regarding my writing. To that point I never had the Internet, with the exception of a pricey dial-up modem. I was living in the countryside, miles from the nearest town, and broadband had just arrived in the area. Within a few weeks of setting it up, I joined a now-defunct writers' site and begin perusing the posts. Things like 'show, don't tell', 'passive writing', and 'avoiding adverbs' reared their heads on more than a few occasions. I assumed these were actual rules (I've never read a how-to writing book in my life) and took them to heart. Something happened, though. Where once I had enjoyed every minute of writing, from thereon it turned into a chore. I was fretting about my writing to the point where every sentence, every word, was scrutinised beyond that which it should have been. As a result I wrote very little in three years. I wouldn't presume to blame it on writer's block, for my ailments were of my own making. It was only when I took a step back and realised that I was writing for someone else's vision of good writing, and not writing for myself, that I solved the problem. After that, I got back on the wagon and churned out my fifth, sixth, and seventh novels, after which I felt my writing had reached publishable standard, and I duly returned to the first story I ever wrote and, using it as a template, rewrote it from scratch.

When we're afraid, we don't make sound judgements. I let fear rule my writing, and as a result I spent three years trying and failing to write anything near the standard with which I had written beforehand. Now I love writing again, and that's because I learned that I would rather write for myself and never be published, than live in fear and create 'sellable' fiction that borders on cookie cutter.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why Thrillers?

It's a question I'm asked almost every time I tell someone that I write thrillers. Despite being one of the biggest genres out there, it's not one that new authors gravitate towards, and it tends to be by default one that people don't start reading on a whim. It's a straightforward case of love or hate. You can pick up a horror, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, or literary fiction novel and enjoy it, but chances are that thrillers may be anathema to you for a variety of reasons. You may not like stories with bloodshed and guns. You may not like ones which feature people visiting death on others. And you may not like a genre which is usually restricted to things that can only happen in the real world.

So why, then, would I write a genre which certain people may not like? It's what I love reading, and therefore becomes what I love writing. My first action movie was Die Hard, and it had a great influence on me. To that point the lead role in those types of movies had been played by muscle-bound men who uttered ridiculous catchphrases and never really incurred any serious injuries. That all changed when Bruce Willis starred as John McClane, an NYPD officer caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was one of the first action movies in which an ordinary man was forced to do extra-ordinary things to save the day. When I started writing, I was fascinated by this approach. I learned that the late Robert Ludlum, one of the finest thriller novelists ever, wrote many of his novels in a similar manner. With the influence of Die Hard, and the excellent prose of Ludlum, I got the idea for the first draft of Dereliction of Duty. Sometime later, while watching The Rock, starring Nicholas Cage as another ordinary man forced into a life-or-death situation, this idea evolved into a series of military thrillers.

Military for a couple of reasons: (1) Some of the Special Forces soldiers (SEALs, SAS, Delta) are inhuman at times. It makes for great storylines. Contrast that with the ordinary man, and in my opinion his actions become even more heroic.

(2) I'm fascinated by that world. What motivates a person to join the military immediately after graduating from high school? How do they cope with coming home from a war-zone with flying bullets, to a residential neighbourhood with backfiring cars? It's got to be one of the most difficult re-integrations imaginable.

(3) Conflict. The single-most important facet of a novel is one that is rife in any war-zone. And I'm not talking about bullets. There may be a chain of command, but soldiers from the same team sometimes don't get on, and soldiers from different units often despise each other.

(4) Anybody can put on a suit and give orders from behind a desk. It takes a different kind of person to risk their life for their country or those whom they hold dear.

You just don't see those kinds of stories in horror or sci-fi or fantasy. Where's the fun in dealing with problems with magic or special abilities? Imagine a swarm of enemies bearing down on you with assault rifles, and you have only one clip left for your M-16. Isn't that just as scary as a horrible monster chasing after you?

I think so.  

Monday, 20 August 2012


One very wise author once said that writing is 60% research and 40% writing. While this figure may be anecdotal, I'd venture a guess that it isn't too far short of the mark, for there are times in my novels when I've done ten hours of research to write a 1,000-word scene. And while I am a strong advocate of writers throwing off the shackles and writing from the heart, plausibility plays a huge role in readers' suspension of disbelief.

A few years ago, on the adamant advice of a friend, I decided to read the first Twilight novel. I came on a scene where the narrator was referencing a time in Edward's (male lead) past where he fought a "coven of vampires in the London sewers". This event happened in 1739, if my memory serves correctly. At that point, I put the novel down and went away for a short walk; and though I finished it, I could never suspend my disbelief from thereon. Why, you ask? Simple. There were no sewers in London until they were built in 1865 by Joseph Bazelgette. Excrement flowed down the streets until it reached the river Thames. The author had referenced an event which could never have taken place.

Many people would chastise me for that, explaining that it's a poor excuse for not enjoying an entertaining story. After all, these stories are fiction. They don't have to be true. No, but they do have to be plausible. There would have been no issue had the author of Twilight made it clear that she was taking liberties with the description of 1739 London. But there was only one reference made to 1739 London, and it involved sewers that didn't exist. If I wrote a book, for instance, set in 1770 and made reference to President George Washington, many people would know that I had made a huge error, for Washington didn't become the first President of the United States until 1789.

Research is vital to any story. You may be able to fool some of your readers, but those hard-core fans who know the genre inside out will not be as easily fooled. I suppose you could say that a book is only as good as the research behind it.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Sabbatical

It's almost been a year since I last posted to this blog. For those who don't know, I got lost on an island and had to press a button every 108 minutes or the world as I knew it would end. Finally, after watching an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer used a battery-powered woodpecker to constantly press the Y key on his computer, I figured out a way to solve my problem. Getting off the island . . . well, let's not get into that -- but I am feeling a strong urge to return to it.

Anyway, I guess the last year of my life has been a little hectic. In the midst of seeing my first novel published in e-book format, having meetings with my publisher to discuss the paperback version, and working hard on the sequel, I've been rather lax in terms of updating my blog. The good news is that the paperback of Dereliction of Duty is now available on Amazon. Reviews so far have been very positive, and I'm thrilled that my work is finally out there for people to read. It's been a heck of a journey to this point, considering I've been writing now for over a decade, but hopefully all of that hard work is coming to fruition right now.

I guess that's all there is to say for the moment. This time, I'll make a more concerted effort to keep this baby updated on a regular basis. In between that, I just hope the woodpecker doesn't malfunction or run out of battery.

Oh, and if you're interested, you can find my novel here:

Thank you.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Writer's World

A friend recently asked me what an author does with their time. Are they the sort of person who adheres to a rigid guideline, rising every morning at the same time, writing for a set amount of hours or a word-count goal, and spending the rest of the day reading books and/or watching TV. First, I told him I'm not an author. At least not in the strictest sense of the word. That's someone who can make a living from their work. I'm not there yet (hopefully one day) so what I am, instead, is a 'writer'. What's the difference, you may be asking. I've just told you. There's not a huge pile in terms of output. I write just as much as any professional author does. The only difference is that I have other endeavours which take away from my writing time.

For instance, I live on a farm. The day there's no work for me will be the day the sun doesn't rise. I try to squeeze in writing whenever and wherever I can. Sometimes that means getting up at seven in the morning and writing for an hour before work starts. Other times, I write during lunch. The best and most productive time I've found,though, is the evening. Unless otherwise preoccupied with a football match or TV series, this is the time I achieve my 1,000 word quota for each day. Oftentimes it's more. I usually clock at least 1,500 before hitting the hay.

How do I motivate myself? What happens when writer's block strikes? First, there's no greater motivation than finishing a novel, giving it to a reader, and seeing the look on their face when they've finished it. It's a great feeling to have someone say: "Dude! I couldn't put it down!" If that doesn't motivate you, what the hell will? As for writer's block, that one's simpler. I don't have it because I don't believe in it. I understand that it's a prevalent condition among aspiring writers, but what I feel it boils down to is a lack of self-discipline. Journalists, professional authors, and other people who need to write to make a living don't suffer from writer's block. They can't afford to.

We're not that different from readers, to be honest. To paraphrase a line from a close friend, Dean Sault, readers suspend reality when they start reading; writers suspend it when they start writing; otherwise, we're much the same. We like to read; A LOT. Often, we write the kind of novel which we'd love to read. Our lives don't revolve around writing, but a lot of our time is spent either thinking about that next scene, wondering about a previous one, or planning the sequel in our head. By default, writers tend to be excessively imaginative. When writing, we spend a lot of time in a world which exists to no one but us. It's no surprise, then, that we tend to drift into this world during the day. Daydreaming used to be a sign that something wasn't quite right with a child. Nonsense. S/he may be daydreaming because of an over-active imagination, which is not a bad thing, especially when that child wants to express themselves in a creative way.

Overall, writing is the closest feeling to being a god. You have complete control of a world, the characters within it, and everything which happens to them. Sometimes, though, the writer stumbles into the pitfall of making his main character nigh-on perfect, perhaps as a representation of what they would like themselves to be. The reality is, though, that everyone has flaws. It's what makes us human, likeable, and relatable. Take that away, and you have a Mary Sue (Google it).

So, no, I don't spend my days writing, watching TV, and lounging around. That being said, it wouldn't be a terrible way of making a living, would it? *Smile*

Friday, 29 July 2011

Sticking it Out.

I know several authors who've started novels, wrote 10,000 or more words, and gave up on them. I've heard a range of reasons for this, including becoming bored with the work, being better suited to writing short stories, or not having planned enough. Having written over half a dozen (ten, if you include rewrites) novels myself, all of which were over 100,000 words, I thought I might share my insight on this subject.

Let's start by stating the obvious: Writing a novel is not easy. Everyone has one in them, but getting it on paper is an entirely different matter. If you have any misconceptions about the amount of work which goes into a novel, let them be dispelled right here and now. Most take between months and years to finish. Whereas you can pen a short story in one day, a novel is something which at times requires the patience of Job. There are no shortcuts. No self-help guides. No rules, except the obvious ones of grammar and syntax. What writing, in all forms but especially novels, requires is self-discipline. That voice in your head which nags at you to write another 500 words today, even though everything you write seems like one huge mind fart. I think this is where a lot of people fall down. When you start something new, it's always exciting. Those first few days of a new job; the first dates of a new relationship; the first time your parents allow you to go out on your own. After awhile, tedium starts to creep in. That initial surge of excitement parts to frustration and boredom. This is the juncture which separates the weed from the chaff. If you want to write a novel, it is at this point which you must decide to persevere, even when it seems pointless to continue.

All novels contain three things: A beginning, middle, and end. Sounds simple when it's put like that. Between those three points, however, is the bulk of your story. If you have an idea for two of those three (preferably beginning and end) it's a matter of connecting the dots. What happens in between to take the MC from that point at the start to where s/he eventually ends up? If planning helps you to figure that out, go for it. Some people find it more exciting (I'm one of them) to wing it. I never become bored with a novel because I never know what will happen in the next sentence, never mind chapter. It is that sense of the unknown which creates excitement within me. There's also the 'Eureka!' moment in which an earlier idea comes fully to fruition. For instance, in my most recent novel I had a group of terrorists in possession of several canisters of a lethal bio-agent. They were travelling towards a town in Utah, driving a uniquely coloured van whose purpose I had no idea until 60-odd chapters later when it became clear. That, for me, is the joy of writing with no shackles. If you're having problems getting past the dreaded onset of boredom, consider throwing off the chains and writing with complete freedom.

I finish novels because of two things: One, I love to start new stories (but I never leave one unfinished). And two, I feel a sense of pride at having finished another one. There is no better feeling than writing the words 'THE END' after a long write and edit. If you can discipline yourself to look past the low points of boredom, and imagine the sense of accomplishment you will achieve if you persevere, writing novels will become second nature. Consider setting yourself a deadline, too, if you're the kind of person who needs a kick in the backside to urge them on.

Last but not least, enjoy it. I've read so many people's reasons for wanting to write a novel. Most of them are something along the lines of wanting to become rich; become a bestseller; see the book become a movie like Harry Potter and Twilight. Reality check: It is next-to-near impossible to get published, never mind become a millionaire from writing. I don't write for that. I write because I love it. If I become published and make money, that's a bonus. Stop trying to write the perfect novel, because such a thing doesn't (and never will) exist. Write for you first. If you're writing for someone else, you aren't being true to yourself as a writer.  

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The First Chapter: An Author's Raison D'etre.

Following on from my philosophy of never boring a reader, my first chapter of a new novel is both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because I'm starting a fresh project, with limitless possibilities, and terrifying because most readers gauge a novel on two things: one, the blurb on the back; and two, the first chapter. In any bookstore you will see the serious readers not only reading the blurb but also the first page(s). For an author, this is your bread and butter. It can be the difference between the reader parting with his/her money, or putting your book back on the shelf. So what can you do to make sure they keep reading long enough to get to the counter to pay?

If there's one place I want/need to snag a reader's attention, it's the first sentence. If I can bring them straight into my story, give them enough information to paint the scene in their head, and engage their intrigue levels enough to at least make them finger the notes and loose change in their pockets, I'm more than halfway to a sale. That's easier said than done. While it ultimately depends on your genre, most first chapters still contain what's known as a 'hook'. A good example of this is the first line of John Grisham's bestseller The Chamber: "The decision to bomb the office of the radical Jew lawyer was reached with relative ease". If you can put that book down before learning why his office is being bombed, why the decision was reached with relative ease, and what happened to the Jew, you are hard to entertain. With one sentence Grisham has painted a scene, introduced a character, and set in motion conflict (the single most important feature of any novel). He's got your attention. Now he can build on that.

Contrast that with this fictitious opening: "John Doe woke up, got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast". If that doesn't induce a yawn, maybe you've already fallen asleep. The reality is, first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter are vital to your chances of both publication and sales. A reader is likely to assume that if you can't hook them at the start, chances are you won't be able to do so before the end either.

That's why I like to start right in the crux of things. Back-story, while important, can be saved for later when your reader needs a breath to calm down from all the rip-roaring action and suspense you've thrown at them. Putting your MC in the thick of things from the start also reveals their character and allows it to grow. We all react differently in crises, and it's that fight or flight mentality which brings out the best and worst traits of your characters. It establishs heroism and cowardice; good and evil. Those are the fundamental personality profiles of the so-called 'protagonist' and 'antagonist'.

When you have a reader's attention, it becomes a matter of holding it. The most action-packed novel in the world can become frustrating if a reader isn't given time to react to the situations evolving before him/her. There is a delicate balance between outright, high-octane action, and slow, catch-your-breath exposition. The trick is finding a way to make the exposition as riveting as the action. Mastering that is the key to becoming a great storyteller. What I like to do, more often than not, is end a chapter with a cliffhanger. It's the tried and tested approach to hooking a reader. Think of a television show you love. Imagine it without any conflict. Imagine if at the end of each show, everyone was happy and got exactly what they wanted. How long would you watch it? The human psyche is designed to leech off conflict. We may abhor it, we may find it frustrating, but ultimately every one of us craves it in one way or another. Without conflict in a novel, you might as well go back to that earlier place of sleep. It is essential, and what better way to keep people reading than by putting your characters in unrelenting situations at the end of each chapter?

The truth is, your first chapter may be the most important one. If well-written and riveting enough, your reader parts with their money and you have another tenner in your pocket. Here's the rub, though. That doesn't mean chapter two shouldn't be as well-written and riveting as its predecessor. Just because you have the reader's money, doesn't mean you now have a licence to bore them to tears. After all, this is a platform you want to build. You want this reader to be so impressed with your work that they'll read your next book without giving chapter one as much as a glance. That is the true essence of great storytelling.