Editing Update: More Sequels, New Crimes

Here are my latest announcements:

I am currently working on the development of the sequel to Innocent in Las Vegas with AR Winters. Always a pleasure to work on detective fiction and I like the way that the author mixes up the gritty, the romantic and the comedic.

I'm also working with the Wearmouth boys (like the Hardy Boys but not really like them at all) on developing the sequel to First Activation which has been given the working title of … I'll let you guess.

Damon Courtney asked me to take an in-depth look at the character development for the final instalment of his Dragon Bond trilogy. This is always a wise thing to do in a trilogy (and even more so in longer series) as you the will tend to accumulate characters, and when you come to the end, all the important ones need to have their stories brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

You self-editors, the exercise I prescribe is to categorize each chapter according to which characters appear, so that for each character, you can read back to back the chapters that feature them.

One of my discoveries was that the Big Bad was referred to in almost every chapter, even though he only actually appears in a few of them. When one character becomes a preoccupation of all the others, it is important to assess all the references to him, to see how he is reflected in the attitudes of others towards him. This can be revealing about all characters.


Change of Web Address

The address of my blog has been updated to www.densewordsblog.com

The original address still works so this won't affect bookmarks, feeds, syndication or whatnot.

Just thought I better mention it.


Minor Website Update

Pricing page wasn't working. It is now (you might have to refresh a couple of times).

Hope I haven't broken anything else in the process.



Between Me

I may have already mentioned that I have numerous talented sisters*... watch this space for upcoming publications/releases etc by the others. This post is is about a crowdsourced film called Between Me that includes what I think is many great performances, including the one by my sister Leone.

Watch the film and if you think it's as good as I do, consider helping out with the funding.

* and one talented brother, but as far as I am aware he hasn't written any books, released any albums or starred in any films ... yet.


Authors I recommend to my Authors #2: Jonathan Meades

Authors Writers I recommend to my Authors #2: Jonathan Meades

"Torrentially articulate" is how he was described (by Nancy Banks-Smith of The Guardian Newspaper) on the appearance of the first "Abroad" series. Meades has a mastery of English whose match I have never heard. Of all the writers I know, he is the only one where I never really care what he is talking about — though it always fascinates and entertains — because listening to his English is like listening to Bach's Well Tempered Keyboard; it has been perfected with practice. Every word slots into your listening senses with not only precision, but care.

Meades' urbanity; his appearance of disinterest; his trademark suit and trademark gait; his lazy old-fashioned middle-class tones act as an inverted camouflage to his passion for his subject matter. Some writers may be said to make the language work for them. Meades makes his meaning work for him.

His language is disarming: apparently simple. His meaning is exactly the same; apparently simple.

"Belgium is exotic precisely because it is so close, yet so subtly different: mayo rather than vinegar."

A typical sentence structure for Meades, this example uses careful, simple precision in the theory (first clause) balances and contrasts this with an example from vernacular eating—what you put on your chips.

But because Meades is also a broadcaster, he is worth watching with your eyes open. Every shot is part of his meaning: the contrived wordless demonstration of what Belgium's neighbours think of Belgians (about 1.10 into the film); regular appearance of uncommented images as if they make his point for him.

Meades' humour is unusually accessible in this film; he always seems a little ill at ease with getting a laugh, which I suppose is part of his enduring preoccupation with the British middle class that spawned him.

What makes Meades' articulacy torrential is what happens when he combines his sense of visual experience - visual articulation - with his distinctive verbal idiom. From the 1994 series "Futher Abroad", Get High is all about vertigo. The excerpt below is from the middle. Try to listen carefully and watch carefully at the same time. I would love to be able to achieve this effect just with words...


Authors I recommend to my Authors #1: Agatha Christie

A new occasional series for my blog. I often find myself recommending books and authors to my authors, and most usually in order to influence or inform their style or teach them something that I think is important about storytelling. This post is about the author I recommend most often.

 Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) is arguably the worlds most famous crime writer, and you could probably still make a strong case for her being the worlds most famous author even today, 35 years after her death.

For authors, Christie's importance is not so much her enduring popularity, but her mastery of her craft. The cynic might argue that her success had a lot to do with being one of the most prolific authors in the most popular genre through the mid twentieth century's pulp fiction boom - she published new works from 1922 through to 1973. If you publish at least one novel every year for 53 years (and Christie published a lot more than that) then provided they are any good, your popularity can climb steadily.

Through her regular successes, Christie soon learned what the public wanted, even to the extent of occasionally mocking public tastes (The Big Four (1927) is a brutal mockery of the excesses of pulp crime fiction) and even mocking her own work (the recurring character Ariadne Oliver is a crime writer whose most famous character is "vegetarian Finnish detective" Sven Hjerson - Christie poking fun at herself and her "OCD Belgian detective" Hercule Poirot).

Her understanding of what the public wanted in a detective novel may well be a deciding factor in her popular success, but that isn't the reason why I tell my authors to read her. I tell my English students to read Christie too. In fact, I tell anyone who wants to use English in their professional and daily lives. Christie is as important in good English usage as Gowers.

Christie's mastery of her craft is a mastery of English usage.

Here's the quotation I always start with, from Death on the Nile (1937):

'The Negro orchestra broke into an ecstasy of strange discordant noises. London danced.'

Two word sentences are the holy grail of writing. But the preceding sentence deliberately makes use of jarring stress patterns that are suggestive of the music and the dance. To put these two sentences in their fuller context:

Smooth-footed, deft-handed waiters ministered to the table. Toast Melba, butter, an ice pail, all the adjuncts to a meal of quality.
The Negro orchestra broke into an ecstasy of strange discordant noises. London danced.
Hercule Poirot looked on, registering impressions in his neat orderly mind.

Three consecutive short paragraphs of which two are limited to one sentenc. Modern writers can learn an awful lot from this. The example is a little unfair since this passage from DOTN is all about setting the scene and the atmosphere, but Christie knows that she has to keep up the pace, keep control of the length of an already overlong book (DOTN is twice as long as her average 200 or so pages). That means that she has to make the language work really hard for her. And take a single sentence for paragraphs that many authors would struggle to do in five.

I particularly love that second sentence where she explicitly describes a "meal of quality" though its accessories, rather than describing the meal itself; in exactly the same way, she describes the setting (the 'modish little restaurant Chez Ma Tante') through the movements and manners of the waiters rather than through the décor or the setting.

The final paragraph of this group nails Poirot's character establishment in the seven words of that second clause, and notice that in the first clause, she doesn't say that he's sitting at a table or that he's sipping his aperitif of that he's in his usual perfect tidy (if slightly overtight) dinner suit.

I could close read this chapter (VI) for the rest of the day, but I have, I hope, done enough to make my point. Read Christie carefully, try to understand what her objective in each paragraph and each sentence is, and try to explain how she achieves the objective, and it should raise your awareness of your own technique.

Finally, I little observation: a few weeks ago I heard a program on BBC radio 4 discussing how, particularly in crime fiction, food was the new sex. I don't remember who all the examples given were, but fortunately something called the internet exists, so here's a link to the programme.

A few lines before the ones I quoted above, Christie shows that this is nothing new. The maitre d', upon discovering that Hercule Poirot is eating alone, consoles him with the sentiment:

'"Women, however charming, have this disadvantage: they distract the mind from food!"'


Contacting D.A. & M.P. Wearmouth

Those of you who have landed on my website looking for contact details for the authors of First Activation over the last few days, you can get in touch with Darren and Marcus directly via their website, or through twitter or their Facebook page. All the relevant links are on their author page on my website, HERE.

The authors' spot on BBC Look North is broadcast today.

:: Edit ::

The spot on Look North will be later in the week; they will be on BBC Radio York tomorrow morning at 7.05am BST.

Darren says that the email form on his website doesn't seem to be working so if you want to you can email him here: dwearmou@gmail.com

finally, here's the Author Alarms link so you can be informed as soon as the sequel is released: http://authoralarms.com/D.A._Wearmouth

(I'll do a post about Author Alarms tomorrow in case you don't know about it.)


Back from Vacation Update

I have often been at pains to point out (cliché) that a content edit can't make a book into a success. An editor can do a great deal to find and eliminate issues that will make a book fail, and also, of course, show the author what to do to make it better.

One of the joys of working with indie authors is that since most of the time the authors are not expecting massive sales, most of the time they aren't seeking them, either. The pressure is on the editor to help the author to improve his craft, not to help him improve his sales figures.

So I claim no credit whatsoever in the events that unfolded over my week of vacation in the mountains of Alsace (which are very pretty, by the way, and well worth a visit; perhaps not the most dramatic of the mountains available in north west Europe but possessed of an unselfconscious charm that – probably best not to get me started).

Darren and Marcus Wearmouth hit the big red button on First Activation on August 7th. You can get full and detailed information on the launch and promotion strategy from the podcast and program notes on Rocking Self Publishing.

By the time the podcast was released, the book was already getting some pretty good sales, and the promotion strategy seems to have paid off pretty well.

On August 21st I go this from Darren, via Skype:

"Hi Harry, number 1 in the UK, for now at least!"

From Wednesday 21st I was supposed to be on holiday, but for the last three years I've taken the Kindle, Smartphone and laptop with me, because I like to read on holiday so I might as well work at the same time. Last year I did several freebies on my summer vacation, but noone sent me any this year :'(

So instead I read the first draft of book 3 in Damon J Courtney's Dragon Bond trilogy. Even before I
messing with it this is a really really good book. When, in the far distant future, Damon is celebrated as one of the great American authors of the early 21st century, schoolchildren will read the Dragon Bond trilogy in their literature classes (don't worry, at some point in the next fifty years or so, schools will start teaching again). Seriously, though, I see working with Damon as proof (if anyone needs it) that if you have the ambition and enthusiasm, you can make yourself into a talented writer. Presumably I ought also to add "if you have a good teacher" ... if you're reading between the lines on this post I'm sure you've realized that I'm struggling against my instinct for modesty.

Anyway, by the time the family and I were comfortably installed in our Gite Rural, I was already checking the sales figures for First Activation every day. The thing is, several of my regular clients do okay over the lifetime of their books, and the ones with several titles make steady sales (the ones who tell me about it). First Activation is the first time that any book that I have worked on has charted so early.

On August 22nd it was #1 in Books>Fiction>Science Fiction in the UK, ahead of Hugh (although of course he's been in the top 100 for, like, ever) and it's still there. Here's the current best category rank in the USA:

As far as I can tell from NovelRank, it managed to creep up to 164th and 25th overall in the USA and UK respectively towards the end of last week. Total sales as of this morning 10,593.

Darren and Marcus have been interviewed by BBC Look North (this is a big deal if you're from the North of England, so please look suitably impressed) - the interview will be shown on Wednesday of this week, and they've been interviewed in regional newspapers and local radio. I suppose its the speed of the rise up the charts that causes excitement, but...

But I don't believe that something rises up the charts fast like that because it's a great book, or because it's been edited by a genius. I think it's because it's the right book at the right time, with the right cover, the right title... maybe there's even having two authors does something to catch the reader's eye. The genre is the right one to be in, the book is sufficiently, noticeably different from others in the genre right from the second page.

But to come full circle, I'm not going to start trying to infer winning formulae from one modest chart topper. I've largely come to terms with the fact that I'm a literary idealist. I want all my authors to become better authors much more than I want them to have big successes. I don't know if that impacts the kind of editing I do, but it's a principle, and at my age (I shall be 40 on the 27th), I think I shall be allowing myself one.