How do you come up with your ideas?

Where did that come from? (image source: jasminemjblogs.wordpress.com)

Where did that come from? (image source: jasminemjblogs.wordpress.com)

I’ve been asked lots of questions since my book Second Chance was published last week, but there is one theme that consistently comes up.

How did you think this up? Where did the idea come from? How do you come up with your ideas?

The simple answer is a lot of different places, but seeing as this vague answer is, unsurprisingly, not what people are looking for, I thought I’d take you through some of my thinking process behind Second Chance. There are no plot spoilers in the following piece.

Write what you are interested in

It’s an old adage in writing, write what you know. This doesn’t mean literally write only about the things you know, otherwise there would be no science-fiction, no fantasy, very little horror; detective stories would be filled with police procedure and murderers would be quickly captured because they were related or known to the victims and there would be a massive new genre of (non) Romance. Writers have to make things up. This is what we do. However, it is important that we are interested in the subject or theme behind what we are writing. I’ve always been interested in politics but have become concerned at how our democratic process is becoming less about deciding the type of world we want to live in, turning instead into a type of beauty contest; where career politicians, many of whom have little to no experience of life outside of politics, form policies based on what will get them elected, as opposed to what is necessarily the right thing to do.*  My biggest concern is whether we have politicians with the will to deal with the difficult issues at the detriment to their personal popularity. With the recent global recession there has been a distinct move away from policies designed to combat climate change, with many questioning the cost of these policies and a small but growing group questioning climate change as a phenomenon full stop. As a writer I wanted to see what the possible consequences of this trend continuing could be.

Write about what annoys you

I love science fiction and one of my favourite authors is Peter F Hamilton. His books are incredibly popular, regularly topping bestseller lists and has a wonderful style that is both easy to read despite dealing with stories huge in scale with many different strands. However, at one point in reading one of his stories I felt very frustrated, because a character that had died was brought back to life based on recorded memories.** I didn’t have a problem with the principle, or whether is was possible. What annoyed me was that the character was treated as the same person when they were not. They were a copy. And while from the outside they would appear the same, inside they were not the original person. Now this is a minor quibble within the confines of a fantastic book from a great writer, but it got me thinking as to how would it be possible to live forever where the body was cloned but the personality inside was a continuation of the original person. This was where the idea for Re-Life was born.

Write about what you believe

There is a reason why most science-fiction is either set way in the future, or at an indeterminate point some time in the near-ish future. This is because the future, and especially timescales, are very hard to predict. I’m a great believer that while technology can change at an extremely rapid pace, our behaviours do not change so quickly. For example, people have been drinking beer and wine for thousands of years. I believe that they will still be drinking beer and wine in another thousand years. How that product is delivered and the material the drinking receptacle is made from may change (though glass is another enduring material), but this aspect wouldn’t change. That is why many aspects of my envisioned future world seem familiar, even mundane. On the other hand, as our understanding of brain chemistry continues to grow, a side effect of that understanding is the emergence of a whole host of designer recreational drugs designed to mimic specific brain functions (usually related to the pleasure centres), so I felt it plausible that this is one area that would be very different in the near future. This was how I came up with dreamshaper.

It was only once I’d identified what I wanted to write about that I was able to start developing the characters allowing the basic storyline to come into being. I’m aware that other writers are different, needing to start with an intriguing character and then putting them into a situation to see how they react. In On Writing, Stephen King explains that most of his ideas come from ‘what if’ scenarios. There is no wrong or right answer, but this is how the process worked for me with Second Chance.

*Although, who decides what is the ‘right thing to do’ is another theme in its own right.

** I am not giving anything away here.

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A thank you

This is a very quick post just to thank each and every one of you who has taken the trouble to support the launch of my book. The past few days have been truly memorable. As I speak, Second Chance is currently no.25 in the Amazon.co.uk Science Fiction/Dystopian charts (it’s been as high as 21) and no.9 in the Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering chart, which is frankly beyond my wildest expectations, so an especially big thank you to everybody who has bought a copy so far.

Truly stunned

Truly stunned

The good news is that I’ve had enough sales to enable me to publish the book as a paperback, so for those of you either without a Kindle (or access to the Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet) or prefer the feel and smell of a good book, you will soon be able to read Second Chance too. I’ll let you know as soon as it becomes available.

Of course, it would be crazy to expect this level of sales to last. I’m a realist, and there is a good chance I know at least 60% of the people who have bought the book to date. Still, if you are reading it and enjoying it, please don’t forget to leave a review on the Amazon page. The more good reviews I get, the more likely other people will buy it who have never heard of me.

Finally, a very big thank you to everybody who has been in contact over the past few days. Your good wishes and encouragement have been truly touching and it is your kindness, more than book sales or chart positioning, that will stick with me long after this excitement has passed.

Thank you.

Second Chance: Now available to buy on Kindle

Second Chance: A dystopian thriller about what power is willing to do to retain control, and what one person is willing to sacrifice to obtain revenge. (cover by James http://www.goonwrite.com)

Second Chance: A dystopian thriller about what power is willing to do to retain control, and what one person is willing to sacrifice to obtain revenge. (cover by James http://www.goonwrite.com)

I can’t tell you how excited I am that my book is now available to buy for the Kindle (or the Kindle app for your smartphone). And nervous. I’m very, very nervous. Still, it’s too late to worry about that now. I’ll write more about the the ideas that inspired me to write the book, some of the themes I wanted to explore, as well as the publishing process over the coming days, but for now here is a quick teaser as to what the book is about:

It had been a struggle but finally the ravages of climate change are in the past. Normality has returned and humanity is blossoming once more.

But a return to normality also brings the return of old behaviour.

Flushed with recent success and bored of being a figure-head, newly-elected delegate Stephanie Vaughn decides to take a more active role against government control. But in choosing to back a campaign to find a missing student, Stephanie unleashes a series of events that puts both herself, and anyone connected to her, in danger.

Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, Second Chance is a story of what power is willing to do to retain control, and what one person is willing to sacrifice to obtain revenge.

To purchase, please click on the link for your country below (I’ve seen that Amazon is yet to update the pricing for some stores. If that is the case, please try again later):

UK – Amazon.co.uk

USA – Amazon.com

Australia / NZ – Amazon.com.au

Germany – Amazon.de

France – Amazon.fr

Remembering why I write

How did this all start? (image source: www.hipstercrite.com)

How did this all start? (image source: http://www.hipstercrite.com)

Anyone who has gone through a low period will know that part of the problem stems from the feeling of helplessness, how events take over, leaving you bereft of direction and purpose. Sometimes this is caused by a single event that knocks your world out of kilter, but often it’s a combination of smaller things that on their own are handleable but combined seem insurmountable. Then there is a third way, where the incremental events go unnoticed, leaving you to believe that everything is OK when it is anything but. I’ve realised this has recently been the case for me.

When I started my novel, I did so as a challenge to myself. It was my own George Mallory moment; I did it both because I had the opportunity and because it was there. Each day was a revelation. My first goal was to write a page, but not only was I able to write a page, I was able to write multiple pages. At first some of my writing was terrible, some not, but occasionally I surprised myself with what I had created. I also found the writing process therapeutic, it allowed me to explore ideas that had been reverberating around my brain for a while and at the same time rekindled a love of storytelling that I’d forgotten I’d had.

About halfway through writing my first draft I realised that this would be a great way to make a living. What isn’t there to like about making something up, writing it down and selling it? I didn’t change my approach to writing, I had always taken that seriously as I believe that if you are going to commit to do something, you should do it properly or not at all, but my goal changed. I was no longer satisfied with conquering Everest, now I needed to make a living from it. It seemed a natural extension at the time but through this change of goal I lost something. It wasn’t just that the goal had become larger, but I had lost control.

I continued to work on the book, finishing the first draft and then honing my story and prose through the editing process. And during the months editing – and it was many months – I gained confidence in my writing and my goals hardened. I was no longer satisfied with earning money from my book, I needed recognition. I had become convinced that only through gaining representation and eventually a publishing deal would I validate my choice to write a book. Because many of us who create – whether it is the written word, music, art, film or design – crave recognition, and what greater recognition is there than by those within the industry, the dream-makers, the arbiters of taste. With this final step the metamorphosis of my goal was complete. The problem was, not only was it infinitely more difficult to achieve than my original goal, more importantly it was completely out of my control.

Towards the end of last year I sent submissions to a number of agents. And waited. And waited. And the longer I waited the more this enormous goal started to eat away at me. Eventually some of them kindly wrote back to inform me that my book was not for them, the rest remained silent. And despite knowing that agents receive thousands of submissions each year and take on one, maybe two new writers; and despite knowing that of those manuscripts taken on very few will be first-time novels (don’t be fooled by debut novel on a book sleeve – it doesn’t mean first book the author has written, it means the first published), my self-confidence took a hit and I started to wonder whether I had wasted my time.

And it was all my fault.

Because I’d lost sight of why I had started writing in the first place. My goal had changed from something difficult but achievable to something incredibly difficult and out of my control. Worse, I had allowed this goal to become a validation of who I was as a person. It was as if I’d decided to buy a lottery ticket and if when my numbers didn’t come up judged myself a failure as a human being. It was a ridiculous thing to think but I had allowed it to happen.

So I’m taking back control.

I’ve decided to self-publish my novel, not as a means to make a living (though it would be nice), not to achieve another form of self-validation through whether people buy it or like it; but for myself, to show that I conquered my Everest. I plan to make it available as an eBook initially, hopefully in the next week or so depending on book covers etc., but at some point I will make it available as a physical book, if only so that I can put it on my bookshelf as proof of what I’ve achieved. Does this mean that I’ve given up on my dream? No, not at all, it’s just that I am not going to allow my dream to define who I am. And do you know what? I feel great. And I’m writing again. And I’m enjoying it. And that is why I started in the first place.

Stop, start, stutter, repeat: My attempts at starting book two

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

When creating goes wrong (picture source: http://pajamadiaries.com)

I had an idea for a new book. This was back in September while I was in the final phase of editing book one. It was a great idea (in my own humble opinion), one that I’d never seen before and one that I was sure would resonate with a large audience. It was a very different idea from the book I was about to complete but that didn’t matter. The concept was excellent. I’d even written an opening chapter which was guaranteed to draw people in. I needed to research a number of areas but that was fine. All I needed to do was finish book one and I would get right onto it.

By November I’d finished book one and sent queries to a number of agents in the hope of representation. I was too late to take part in NaNoWriMo with my new idea as I hadn’t started my research, but I wasn’t worried. There was under no time pressure. Because it was a contemporary novel I wanted to get the detail right, and as a thriller I felt that it was better to make sure the key plot points were clear before starting. To help my research I’d arranged to interview people who were involved in the area I wanted to write about, and I researched my key locations online with a plan to visit them in person before Christmas. All was going well. The concept still excited me.

By the beginning of January I had decided I’d been procrastinating for too long. I hadn’t had a chance to run any interviews, or visit the locations as planned, but I wanted, no needed to start. Over the Christmas period I had received two rejections of my first book and  silence from the other agents. I knew that this was part of writing, but I was feeling fed up, so my plan to kick myself out of a rut was to start something new. The problem was, my enthusiasm for the project had died. It was still a great concept, it was still something that was current, important, and with a large potential audience. It’s just that I had lost something on the way. The initial spark that is so important when starting a new project had gone. I struggled for a few days, writing a few hundred words here and there, but I struggled to get into the heads of the characters. It was a miserable feeling. I was a failure.

Then the other night, while I was lying in bed worrying about my writing, worrying about why nobody was interested in my book and generally feeling like giving up, I had the idea for a character. It was a vague outline but I immediately picked up the notebook I keep beside my bed and scribbled furiously. I hadn’t any idea of what the story might be, but I knew how the character thought, what their conflict was and why it made them so compelling. It was the first time I’d felt this enthused about writing for months. So I took the  decision to park my initial idea for book 2, put to one side the research I had completed, and write about this character instead. It wasn’t that I’d  given up with the original idea, it’s just that I decided to wait until the enthusiasm returns so I can do the story justice.

Today I sat at my computer and wrote for four hours straight. I wrote around two thousand words, all about this new character. Sadly they were two hundred words at a time, as I repeatedly started writing the story, stopped, decided it wasn’t good enough, deleted everything and started again. And again. And again. By the end of today I have exactly no words written but a lot of excitement. Well, you can’t have everything. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Man flu: the facts

"You couldn't just pass me the remote..."

“You couldn’t just pass me the remote…”

New Year didn’t happen for me this year. From the Saturday after Christmas to the following Sunday, my body was involved in a titanic struggle to overcome the most deadly of diseases: man flu. Yes, I can feel the sympathy flooding in. I don’t know why but for some reason man flu, out of all the deadly infections, is treated with amusement, if not ridicule, from a certain segment of society. It is very odd. I’ve never heard people say “he’s making a meal out of this ebola virus”,  or “it’s lucky men don’t have babies, the fuss my Alf is making about the plague”, yet these are the very same phrases men hear daily when combatting man flu.

To help overcome these unnecessary prejudices, here are some facts* about man flu.

1. Man flu is not the same as the common cold

Survey’s have shown that half the population believe man flu is just another term for the common cold. This is not true. The male immunity system is over 50% more effective at battling viruses than its female counterpart, meaning only the most virulent, and potentially deadly bugs make it through. However, this is good news for women, because when an outbreak occurs many females succumb to the milder form of the disease, and in the same way as having cow pox gives immunity to small pox, having the milder form of man flu gives females immunity to the more aggressive version. Sadly, men do not have this option and therefore have to suffer the virus in full.

2. Man flu alters brain chemistry

Earlier this year, a team of scientists from Zurich lead by the renowned Dr Weicheier, published a paper in Nature magazine on their discovery that the brain chemistry of a patient suffering from man flu is subtly different from that of a non-sufferer. The effects of the altered brain chemistry were similar to those seen in the victims of brain trauma, changing the patient’s personality leading to bouts of snappishness, grumpiness and a general bad mood. The good news was that the study showed that in over 80% of survivors, these effects are short-lived. The number may in fact be higher but for some patients in the study it was difficult to judge a significant difference in the before and after behaviour.

3. Man flu attacks the spinal cord

Another common symptom of man flu is the loss of movement in the legs. This is because the virus attacks the sheath around the spinal cord, causing swelling at the base of the spine which blocks the brain signals required to activate leg muscles. This is why when a sufferer says that they cannot get out of bed to get a drink, they are telling the truth. For reasons as yet unknown, this symptom can be sporadic, coming and going at random times during the infected period, causing patient anxiety when they are told off for being able to walk to get the remote control but then can’t get up to make a cup of tea.

4. Watching favourite DVD’s can help alleviate the symptoms

While it may be seen a s a cliché, scientists have recently discovered that watching DVD’s stimulate the pleasure centres of the brain, helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of man flu. The study, which conformed to the Loreal standard of 31 participants, showed that patients showed particular progress while watching films by Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal .

5. Man flu is real

And just in case there are some of you that still believe man flu doesn’t exist, here are articles in the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mirror on a recent breakthrough proving it does (and none of them are dated April 1st).

*These facts may not in fact be facts but opinions, flights of fancy and occasionally lies – except for point 5 which is real. The author is not a trained professional and at no point should these facts be seen as the truth. If you are suffering from man flu, please visit doctor.