Writing from experience?

I was reading some posts recently in a LinkedIn authors’ group, on the subject of writing from experience. I was surprised (though not sure why) at the number of authors who said that they always started from their own experience, writing about situations and characters that they could describe easily from memory.

It got me thinking about the process that I went through when writing King’s Ransom. In outline, the book is about a man who is fluent in several European languages – I only speak English and somewhat limited French – who works as an international sales executive: and I have never worked in sales. He gets made redundant (which has never happened to me) and when he gets a new job he has to travel to a country in what was Soviet East Asia -in the general area of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan etc – while I have never been further east than Budapest, which does actually feature in the novel.

It goes on in much the same vein. He is blackmailed (not happened to me – yet), thrown in prison (ditto), and tortured (nope), and he gets involved with drug smugglers, spies, war-lords and an armed insurrection, all of which are way outside of my knowledge.

There’s more, which I can’t really explain without blowing the plot, but it’s interesting, on reflection, that at least 80 percent of the novel is – as I say in my introduction to the book – the product of my fevered imagination. And I can’t really say how on earth that happened, given that I have spent my entire working life working on largely factual writing.


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My Latest Interview

I was recently interviewed by Susan Barton (eBook Review Gal) and wanted to share a portion here. You can view the complete interview on Susan’s website.
King's Ransom Book Cover

Tell me about your book:

King’s Ransom was self-published on Amazon Kindle on 14 April 2013. It’s an action/adventure novel – holiday reading, if you like. As my sister-in-law said, “It’s not literature”. Comments from early readers have all been very positive.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written stuff, even as a kid. I was fascinated by books, by words, and by the way in which words could be used to re-create emotions and communicate feelings. I wrote a lot at school – my specialisms were history, geography and English – and I went to University to read History. However, I only lasted a year before I was thrown out. I was a 19yo with the emotional maturity of a 13yo, and I spent too much time drinking and having fun. Fortunately for me, the only job I could find was as a publicity assistant with an engineering company. That is when I started to write professionally, and I have been writing marketing communications ever since.

How long did it take you to write King’s Ransom?

It’s a bit complicated. I wrote the original draft in the early 1990s (I think 1994) after reading a really awful paperback on holiday: badly written, badly plotted, just dreadful. And I thought I had to be able to do better than that: I guess that’s the curse of the professional copywriter. So I had a go: I wrote a plot outline while I was on holiday, and when we got back home I wrote the original draft of King’s Ransom in my spare time. I seem to recall it took about two or three months. I revised it a few times over the following year, but after getting a load of rejection slips from publishers and agents, the book went into the bottom drawer until the middle of 2012. In May of that year, my son (who had read the original when he was at medical school) sent me a link to the Kindle self-publishing guide and suggested I have a go at revising/updating and publishing it. Cut a long story short, that’s what I did.

What was your favorite part of the book to write? Why?

There’s a Prologue, which I think is quite exciting and intriguing, and a Postscript, which I really like – it still makes me smile when I read it. And there’s also a love story, and I enjoyed developing that, because it seemed to take on a natural life of its own. A friend who read one of the drafts said that one love scene made him cry, which is very satisfying.


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King’s Ransom Video Book Trailer

Click the play button, bottom left and have a look at this brilliant video trailer for King’s Ransom, produced by the multi-talented Susan Barton of ebookreviewgal.com. It absolutely captures the very essence of the novel. Enjoy.

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And a kindness of brother-in-law

As I have mentioned previously, my brother-in-law Peter – pedant-in-residence and all-round good-guy – was immensely helpful when I was writing King’s Ransom, carefully reading the draft, and picking up sundry mistakes and inconsistencies.

Unfortunately, I have not asked him to do a similar job on my blog, which is a pity because once I published the previous post he emailed me, pointing out that “awkwardly, a group of ravens is an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, not a kindness.” He’s correct, of course, so black-mark Wilson for not checking.

In my own defence, I am still going to cherish “a kindness” as the collective noun for all the people – including Peter – who helped me get King’s Ransom published.

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A kindness of strangers

As I am sure you know, “A kindness” is the collective noun for a group of ravens. But judging by my recent experiences in publishing and promoting King’s Ransom, I’d say the word is wasted on those somewhat sinister birds. It would be far more appropriate to talk of “A kindness of strangers”.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, my son originally persuaded me to have a go at self-publishing when he sent me a link to the Kindle self-publishing website. I’m reasonably computer literate, and back in the day, I spent some years working for The (late, great and lamented) Monotype Corporation, which taught me something about typography and graphic design.

So once I found the original digital file of the early drafts, I thought “well, why not give it a  go?” And all went reasonably well until I came to format the novel for publication, which is when I found that, although the Kindle self-publishing site is fairly clear, it doesn’t tell you everything. Not by a long way.

I had all sorts of problems to contend with, and at one point I despaired of ever getting the book published at all. However, as I mentioned briefly in a previous post, I was given a tremendous amount of help by a number of people who I “met” online: complete strangers every one, but enormously kind and generous.

But that wasn’t the end of it. After I published, I realised that I had not pre-planned (as I should have done) my promotional activity, and I posted another crie de coeur on a LinkedIn group. Within a couple of days, I’d received advice from a number of people, including the incredibly knowledgeable and helpful Susan Barton who offers a huge range of services to authors. As with Jo Harrison, who I mentioned in my previous post, I wish that I had met Susan before I published because, like Jo, she could have saved me an awful lot of heartache.

I’m going to return to the subjects of book preparation and promotion in future posts, but for the moment, if you are writing an eBook, or even just thinking about it, don’t do what I did. Call in these delightful people first: you will not regret it for a moment.

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So far, so good…

Now that is a dangerous thing to say.

On the other hand, I’m four weeks into my life as a debutant novelist, and King’s Ransom just got its fifth review – and they’ve all been five-stars. Of course, there may be six or seven people who are, at this very moment, referring to their Thesaurus for equivalents of “rubbish”, “nonsense” and “tedious beyond measure”, but it really is so far, so good.

A few years ago I read an interview with a novelist who said that every good review filled him with dread, because he knew there would a budding iconoclast waiting in the wings ready to slap him down – and that is the review he would remember. I’m not at that stage yet, but I do know it is coming. Sooner or later, someone is going to feel cheated out of £1.53, or whatever their local currency happens to be. Not only that, they will want to tell the world how they bitterly regret downloading King’s Ransom.

If and when it happens, I do hereby solemnly promise to give it full coverage on this blog. I just hope I can be magnanimous about it, and not go into a sulk.


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A start-again job

I spent a lot of time yesterday getting this blog ready to roll, a job which involved transferring and editing bits from the blog attached to my freelance copywriter website. Now it’s time to write something new.

That’s less easy than it sounds. If you read through the other posts, you’ll see that they tell the story of how I came across the original manuscript of King’s Ransom and how I revised, updated and then published it. If I were starting this blog from scratch I could have told that story in more detail, and I did think about adding intervening posts explaining various processes that I went through. But I’m not sure that would have been entirely satisfactory, because they would have lacked any of the sense of discovery and excitement that I felt at the time.

In any case, as L P Hartley wrote as the first line of The Go Between “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Incidentally, isn’t that the most wonderful opening line? I think it’s up there with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” and “Call me Ishmael”.

When I wrote the first version of King’s Ransom, the opening line – which is still the first line of the first chapter – was “The more something happens, the more you get used to it. That’s the theory. The theory is bullshit.” And the hero goes on to find out that he’s just been made redundant for the third time in his working life. I thought the opening was quite catchy, but someone who read it told me that an action-adventure story needed a bit more, well, action and adventure in the opening few words. So I wrote a Prologue before the first chapter, which starts “John Deacon handed in his security badge to the guard, smiled his thanks and waited as the electronic door was unlocked.” Catchy, eh? I can tell you are gripped already.

But back to the plot, or at least the plot of this blog. Over the coming weeks I’m going to write more about King’s Ransom (of course), about what I am doing to promote it, and – if I actually manage it – how I am getting on with my next novel. Among the fragments I found in the back-up CDs that I found last year was an outline of a romantic comedy that I originally wrote as a filmscript for a competition back in 1996/97. I didn’t enter it for the competition – someone close to me said they didn’t like my script – and I’d forgotten all about it. But I mentioned it to my wife Kate and she remembered it and said she thought it would make a lovely bittersweet and funny novel. So, I might do that at some point, and if I do I will write about it.

Meantime, I’ll be concentrating on King’s Ransom. In addition to writing about the book and how I am promoting it, I’ll also share the information I found about formatting and uploading to Kindle. A lot of Kindle books I’ve looked at seem to have formatting issues which would be relatively easy to solve with a few simple procedures. But that is for the future . Now, the sun is shining, and my overgrown garden is calling for me to come and tidy it.

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