Learning Curve

When I started writing in earnest four years ago I discovered my grammar and creative writing skills weren’t up to scratch when I had previously thought my grasp of the English language was pretty good. It was an incredibly steep learning curve to get to a point where I felt comfortable releasing my first novel to the world without it being ridiculed for its lack of professionalism.

Jump forward to 2019 and while editing my latest novel, ‘Bonds’ I’ve found my grasp of grammar is actually still lacking. The past few months again have been a vast array of lessons learned. Comma use, conjunction use, em-dash/en-dash, etc. and trying to figure out the differences between UK English (which I had been immersed in for half a century), and US English (which I’m having to write in as a writer based in, and writing about Americans).

I think I’ve now got a grip of the basics and a few of the more intricate aspects of modern creative writing, but I’m fully aware that I will continue to learn each day what is right and what is wrong in the literary world. Most readers won’t be able to explain, or point out with any accuracy, what is wrong in a grammatically incorrect piece of fiction, but I know from experience that I can just tell that something is wrong — even if I can’t explain what it actually is that is bothering me. As writers we don’t want that to happen to our readers who have forked out their cash to buy our work.

Anyway, as I approach launch of the new book, I’ve spent several weeks revising the grammatical errors in my previous book and in my short stories written under my pseudonym. I’m hoping that they will be less likely to make readers twitch uncomfortably now.

We all make mistakes, (I’m sure there are plenty just in this blog) knowing that we’ve made a mistake is the first step, followed by learning what to do about it, and then make sure we don’t repeat those errors. That’s something that I’m learning as a writer (and in life generally) — learn from my mistakes and don’t be afraid to admit them. It’s never too late to learn new things, and it will never be too late to learn how to do something properly.

The edit on ‘Bonds’ continues (slowly) and I’m hopefully still on track for a Mid-April launch. In the past few weeks I’ve been tinkering with this novel, producing a cover (there’s a new one compared to my previous post – there was a quality issue) and making a new cover for my previous novel ‘One More Minute’. The intention being that all my work will have a similar style of cover and font usage in an effort to make my ‘brand’ more attractive.

‘OMM’ also received a much needed edit after I discovered some errors in it that had been hanging around for the last three years – my sincerest apologies to all my readers of that novel over the past few years for those mistakes which weren’t caught previously. I hope they didn’t distract too much and that you didn’t think I was too much of an idiot for not spotting them earlier.

I’ve also started work on a couple of short stories which will hopefully develop over the next month or so, and help build my catalog of stories for you all to enjoy.

Procrastination as ever is the enemy, but I’ll keep fighting the couch and TV in an effort to keep the writing going all at a steady pace. Back to work now (the daytime, bill paying one).

Sunday: Isn’t that supposed to be the day of rest?

Over the weekend I was editing.
First, I finished going through the hard copy of the ‘Bonds’ manuscript complete with yellow highlighter and one of my ‘acquired’ Huntington pens. 291 pages, 94,000 words all hole-punched and in a big black binder. Punctuation and typo errors marked in luminous lemon, and black ink streaks cutting through various lines of description and dialogue. The margins were filled with detail and suggestions to be added later in the rewrite. That task was finished on Saturday after about a week of sitting in cafes and at my cluttered desk at home.

Sunday arrived and it was time to start to input all the corrections, deductions, and additions into the electronic version of the manuscript. Ten hours later I was a third of the way through. Who says Sunday is the day of rest? Tonight and every night this week will be more of the same.

Editing is a thankless task. I know some more affluent writers out there have the ability to hire an editor but, I’m a tight Scotsman who wants to control what’s on the page. I’m also tight because I’m too poor to pay for an editor. Perhaps in the future I’ll employ the services of a professional editor but, I’m also the sort of person that will still do what I do prior to them getting their hands on my work.

So, the edit should be finished this week, my Alpha Readers should get their versions of the book next week, and then it’ll be a final push towards publication sometime in April. All of which will include the creation of a cover. I know what I want for that; it just may take some doing to pull it off.

Writing is hard work, sometimes with longer shifts than the actual day job that currently pays the bills and keeps the electricity flowing into the wordprocesser. I wouldn’t, and won’t, give it up though. Here’s to many more ten hour weekend shifts armed with a highighter.

Bonds: Getting there

Last night I reached the final chapter in the first editing pass of ‘Bonds’ (my latest novel). Thirty-three chapters, 94,000 words and a handful of characters that this time last year didn’t exist.

A first edit for me is used to correct typos, grammar, and in particular tense. I have a tendency to flip from past to present tense and back again while doing my initial draft and during the first edit I have to correct all of that. Sometimes deciding what tense a story uses is the biggest challenge. Present tense gives an immediacy and can help build tension though, it has its restrictions, whereas past tense can give more freedom and allows a thorough narrative. However, past tense can remove some of the tension of a scene as its being viewed from a perspective where everything has already happened. This can dull the cutting edge of a story, especially if its told from a first person point of view. I’ve struggled a little with this on this project.

I’m hoping to finish this first edit today and I already know what needs added (we may end up with 35 chapters), enhanced, and perhaps dumped during the next edit. If I can stick to a strict schedule (which I’m not good at) then the second edit will be done by the middle of February.

By then I’m also hopeful that I will be more advanced in the skills of advertising and marketing, something I’ve never really done with my novels and short stories until now. This part of being a writer seems almost more work than creating and writing the stories.

Any advice or sure-fire tricks on that part of the process is gratefully received. And remember if you want to be involved as a beta reader then please get in touch (see my previous blog for details).

And the award goes to…

It’s awards season for the movie industry. A time when actors kiss ass, directors gush, and spouses and lovers get an emotionally charged mention (both if you’re involved with Ewan McGregor).

I love going to the cinema. I’ve been forty-five times since August and nine times already during January and there’s still time to sneak in at least one more before the end of the month. I’ll give almost anything a go, and that has meant I have seen some unexpectedly strange and delightful pieces of cinema. It also means I’ve seen a lot of shit. Though in fairness to the Indy movies most of the shit has been $100 million dollar franchise stuff with big name “actors” attached (for “actors” read steroid fueled poster boys).

Winter is a time when the movie industry puts out a barrage of blockbusters hoping to capture an audience fed up with the cold weather and in need of two hours of escapism. They also send out the “serious” stuff. The low budget movies that are packed with tense scenes, hard-hitting subject matter, and actors squinting and huffing and gesticulating their way to award nomination glory.

I’ve watched nearly all of the movies that are picking up nominations or have already brought tears, fake surprise, occasional real surprise, and long drawn out speeches on glittery stages from the winners. With the Oscars still to come it appears that the initial front-runners aren’t going to get their way this season.

For what it’s worth (nothing) here’s my take on what has been notable in the movies this past year.

The worst movie of the year by far was ‘Predator’. I really have nothing good to say about this movie other than they managed to get the opening and closing credits in the correct order. ‘Replicas’ can be thankful that ‘Predator’ saved it from being the most desperately bad two hours of cinema in the last twelve months.

Other disappointments were: ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’, ‘Incredibles 2’, ‘White Boy Rick’, ‘The Girl in the Spiders Web’, and ‘Welcome to Marwen’. These were all movies that promised so much however fell way short of that promise.

Movies that surprised me or, which I thoroughly enjoyed without being blown away by them were: ‘Ant-Man & The Wasp’, ‘The Equalizer 2’, ‘The Happytime Murders’, ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’, ‘First Man’, ‘Instant Family’, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and ‘On The Basis of Sex’. They all have their moments.

As for the big-hitters? There have been a few “surprise” winners already at the Golden Globes etc. namely ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘The Favourite’, and ‘Black Panther’. These are all thoroughly good movies… but winners?

As a huge Queen fan I enjoyed ‘BR’ even had a few chills during it but, it’s a deeply flawed movie as far as the facts and timeline are concerned. So, should it be winning awards? I don’t think so. ‘The Favourite’ is an excellent female led piece with great performances though it fell well short of the expectation that even the trailer gave. And then there’s ‘Black Panther’. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have enjoyed every single movie in the series and have watched them all multiple times – I even watched ‘BP’ again last night. However, I don’t think it was even the best Marvel movie of 2018, that was ‘Infinity War’. I completely get the hype and the cultural baggage attached to ‘BP’ but, there are plenty of other movies which deal with the issues of POC in a better, deeper, and more worthy way. There’s ‘BlacKKKlansman’ for a start.

So, for me this past year at the movies was marked by the following films and performances.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ fantastic action and a tremendous achievement to bring ten years worth of stories and characters to a climax.

‘Ralph Wrecks the Internet’ a hilarious animated sequel which is a rare thing (just look at ‘Incredibles 2’ for proof of how bad sequels can be).

‘BlacKKKlansman’ which I knew nothing about when I bought the ticket. It had me gripping the arms of my seat in frustration and dismay at the shocking lack of progress we have made during all these years with its final scene

And ‘A Star is Born’ which had terrific performances from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as well as a stunning soundtrack. That Cooper learned to play guitar, sing, and use an inflection on his voice while doing so, as well as deal with his debut directing role was remarkable.

While on the matter of performances I think this was a year that had some great award worthy performances in what weren’t necessarily in award winning movies.

Ryan Gosling was excellent in ‘First Man’, Steve Carell proved he can act in two movies that disappointed ‘Beautiful Boy’ & ‘Welcome to Marwen’, all three lead actresses (Colman, Weisz, and Stone) were great in ‘The Favourite’ which was sadly less than the sum of its parts. Clint Eastwood impressed in ‘The Mule’. Viggo Mortenson surprised me in ‘Green Book’. Christian Bale did what he does in ‘Vice’. And Melissa McCarthy had emotional depth in ‘Can You Ever forgive Me’ (see the opposite – but equally enjoyable – in ‘The Happytime Murders).

Two performances struck me as brilliant though. Both of them within the last week and neither of them will be among the nominations at the glitzy awards nights.

James McAvoy for his multiple personality portrayal in ‘Glass’ – the second time he’s played the part and a huge step forward from even his first time as the character(s) in ‘Split’. He was sublime. There’s one scene where McAvoy is switching between personalities in the presence of Samuel L. Jackson’s character. Sam has a smile grow on his face during the scene and I’m honestly not sure it was scripted. I like to think he was just enjoying James McAvoy’s performance.

And Steve Coogan in his portrayal of Stan Laurel in ‘Stan & Ollie’. It’s an affectionate, subtle, and spot on performance which will sadly go mostly unseen, and thus sadly unappreciated. He should feel very proud.

It’s been a decent year for the cinema. There’s been deep emotional pieces, some terrific individual displays, huge blockbusters, and a few movies that will stand the test of time.

Movie of the year for me? – ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Movie of the year for me that has a chance of winning any “award recognition”? – ‘A Star is Born’ though, sadly I think it will miss out on the big prizes to movies that have pinched the political nerve.

Wanted: Beta Reader Volunteers

January has been spent editing the current Novel ‘Bonds’. I’m about two/thirds done on the first edit which I’ll hopefully have done by this weekend. Then comes a second edit and tidy-up before the next step. A step I haven’t done before but, is a necessary one if I’m going to take my writing seriously.

That step is Beta readers. That’s where you guys come in. I’m asking for a few volunteers to be my beta readers on this piece of work with the intention being that I’ll get you a copy of the manuscript by probably sometime during February with the hope you’d have feedback for me by a couple of weeks after that.

For those of you who do not know what Beta readers are I’ll attach a brief summary and some notes below. Depending on how many offers I get for this task I may need to reject some help as I would like three/four beta readers tops. Primarily I would like readers who are used to reading romance/thriller style books, and who are willing to give constructive feedback that will be helpful in developing the story, pointing out plot holes/mistakes, and commenting on character development.  

Here’s a link to a brief description of what a Beta Reader is:


Here’s a link to what writer’s are looking for from their Beta Readers:


Here’s a link to the kind of feedback writers hope for from their Beta Readers:


For anyone interested in being one of my Beta readers please contact me through the messaging facility here, by messenger on my Facebook account, or by e-mail (smacart2018@gmail.com). It’s unpaid work, I may not necessarily change anything due to your feedback (though it will be appreciated), and you can expect to see your name in print in the acknowledgements section of the finished book.

Redefining Masculinity: Gillette Ad Controversy

Forbidden Writings

This morning, I learned about the new ad campaign created by Gillette to raise awareness about toxic masculinity in our society. My initial reaction to the ad was a positive one. I was very happy to see that the issue of violence as a prevalent factor of masculinity was being brought to light, and it brought a smile to my face. However, when I looked at the replies to this ad on Twitter, then on Youtube, and began to cringe uncontrollably at vitriolic response Gillette was receiving. many of which varied from “You’re saying all men are bad now?” to “Not buying Gillette ever again” and my personal favorite here:

“Like every other company that wants to get in on the social justice movement that will pay in sails.”

Yeah…. ‘pay in sails’.

I had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to this on Twitter earlier this morning as I…

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The Voices in My Head — Legends of Windemere

This is a re-blog of Charles Yallowitz’s touching post (to me anyway).

Way back in October, I was a guest on Annette Rochelle Aben’s podcast called ‘Tell Me a Story‘. During the fun and festivities, it was pointed out that I talk about my characters as if they can walk into a room any minute. This got me thinking about me as an author. I can’t say […]

via The Voices in My Head — Legends of Windemere

New friends, new readers, new goals, new outlook.

Tonight was Euchre night. If you’re a Brit like like me then when being introduced to the card game Euchre at first you’ll think it’s a ruse. There’s no such word, the yanks are taking the piss out of the poor, stupid immigrant. It’s an insider joke. Then eventually you’ll realize that it’s a real thing that some of them take seriously, and that it brings all sorts together. The serious card shark, the casual player, and the often dumbfounded (that’s me).

I was a spectator, at the beginning of the night, keen to learn the rules and tactics but, after half a dozen stiff drinks I let the players get on with it while I soaked up the distracting atmosphere and growing friendship that mingled around the winning hands. And, as the night went on my thoughts were reinforced that America is a strange and wonderful land. It has many deep and worrying faults but, as a newbie to this country I can say it has welcomed me and all my own personal idiosyncrasies with open arms. Tonight was yet another example of that where people who barely knew me (or not at all at first) made me feel more at home than I rarely ever felt back in Scotland.

Tonight I got to know colleagues better, made some existing friendships a little deeper, and met new people who blew me away, and whom I hope to know for many years to come.

The drink is expensive but flows. The card games are beyond me but fun. And the people are diverse but always, always welcoming. America to a foreigner can seem like a septic sore on the ass of the planet but, with each day I get more infected and more willing to happily wallow in it’s intoxicating wounds. America is my home now.

Tonight as cards were dealt, points were scored, and drinks were downed I realized once again I don’t want to be anywhere else except in among the people and culture of this crazy, fucked up country. It’s mental on an hourly basis but, it’s my kind of mental.

I didn’t learn how to play Euchre, I ran up a stupid bar tab, I handed out my new business cards like a pretentious dick, and I beamed stupidly as new friends downloaded my books in front of me. It was yet another strange and wonderful night in my new life here in the States. Another night that made me smile and feel good about myself.

I’ll keep soaking it all up, keep meeting new people, keep making new and wonderful friends, and I’ll keep writing because I’ve finally met people who take an interest in what I do.

‘The American Dream’ is an often derided phrase by people from other developed western countries however, it’s only when you get here that you really get a feel for what it really is. It’s not that there’s more chances here or better opportunities, it’s that no one on a personal level wants to hold you back. They want to see you succeed. There’s a lack of indifference that is replaced by a welcoming attitude of ‘go for it’, ‘why not?’.

Here’s to lots more fun nights, cheers to my supportive friends, and thank you to my new readers. Maybe this time next year I’ll also know how to play Euchre (I doubt it).