NaNoWriMo 2015: Winner (just)!

Crikey, didn’t November fly by? One minute it was Halloween and we were all sitting in the Forum exchanging plots and twists and character bios for NaNoWriMo, the next it’s the eleventh hour, St Andrew’s Day, and I’m adding the last however many words needed to get over the line. But get over the line I did – 50,164 words in 30 days. Presenting cheesy grin!

So that’s all very nice. Even nicer was witnessing a lot of happy WriMos throughout various newsfeeds and write-ins, and a buddy’s page that was liberally peppered with purple ‘Winner!’ bars.

Nicer still, now NaNoWriMo is done, I don’t feel like taking Year Zero and shoving it through a shredder, or at least not yet anyway. Instead, I’m rather keen to keep adding to it. I’ll aim for 1,000 words per day, similar to when I was finishing The Floors, although this time I won’t be working to a silly self-imposed deadline. Again, feel free to crack the whip if you see me slacking.

I’m still none the wiser how long Year Zero will be. Given what I’ve written so far, plus the scenes I still want to write, not to mention the plot, lest we forget, the story could hit 225,000 words if I’m not careful (that’s in the region of 750 paperback pages, folks). I fear it could put Year Zero at risk of being junked unseen by agents or publishers. (Mind you, given some of the rates I’ve seen offered of late, I don’t imagine I’d have any problem finding someone out there to edit the thing!)

Luckily I have a number of red pens left over from editing The Floors. I’ve a feeling I might need them. Let’s get a first draft done before all of that, eh?

TTFN.

LP

 

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25,000 words down. Time for a cover!

Year Zero cover 1What-ho, peeps, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again, this time with a short and sweet NaNoWriMo update.

This is one of those me-me-me posts (yes, another one!), so feel free to skip this if you aren’t, you know, me.

Anyway, with the halfway point of the month fast approaching I’ve just hit the 25,000 word mark, so things are trundling along nicely. It’ll be interesting to see where in the story I’ll be come 50,000 words, because at the moment there’s still a fair amount to get out of my head, and I still need to somehow knit large chunks of it together into a workable narrative. I’ve a feeling this could weigh in around twice as long as The Floors, though bear in mind I rather underestimated how long that would be. (“100,000 words too long,” you say? Tsk! Meanie.)

The biggest positive for me so far is that Year Zero is shaping up a lot better than The Forum of the Dead, my last NaNoWriMo attempt. There haven’t been too many bad days, touch keyboard, when I’ve felt like giving up and doing something less maddening instead, and even then I’ve at least managed to write something. Of course, whether said something survives a second draft, who knows, so long as I get to a second draft.

A sign that I’m feeling more positive about Year Zero is that I’ve knocked together a cover for it. Not bad for an hour’s messing about with Inkscape, and a fitting contrast to The Floors. The cover might change over the coming however-long – for example, I might yet put this out under (gasps) my proper actual real proper name – but for now it’s a useful placeholder.

Anyway, like I said, a short and sweet update. I’ll befoul the cyberwaves once more when I hit 50,000 words. I bet you can’t wait!

LP

NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNo2015 ParticipantGoodness me, it seems like an awfully long time since I was last blathering up the blogosphere. What’s that? “That’s because it has been an awfully long time?” Yeah, well, try not to sound too pleased about it, because I’m back to befoul the cyberwaves again. You lucky, lucky people!

So why have I come back? Well, partly because WordPress renewed my domain name and it would be a shame to see $26 go to waste, and partly because there’s another NaNoWriMo on the way!

Now, if at this point you are wondering what the hell a NaNoWriMo is when it’s at home, then seek ye the National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo sees lots of people hunker down over their laptops and writing pads during the month of November, all feverishly trying to squeeze 50,000 words of a novel onto the empty page before the end of the month. That weighs in at just under 1,700 words every day, which is chickenfeed to seasoned pros like Alexander McCall Smith, who can push out 1,000 words in an hour, but often proves a little trickier for most mere mortals.

Now, your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here, did alright in the 2012 and 2013 NaNos, scoring just over 50,000 words in them both. (I was on hols for 2014’s NaNo.) 2012’s NaNo yielded my sci-fi horror novel, “The Floors”, which you can still see shamelessly plastered all over this blog. 2013’s NaNo brought about a solid chunk of a novel called “The Forum of the Dead”, which I then took around the back of the house and shot so as not to distress the kids.

Looking back, there was a big difference between my first and second attempts at NaNoWriMo. Back in 2012, the whole concept of “The Floors” was like some all-consuming forest fire sweeping through my mind. A maze of thirteenth floors? Bam! The idea had taken root, and it was more or less all my brain could think about until the book was finished, redrafted, edited, redrafted and put out there to buy. Sometimes, when that happens, the only thing I can do is to go along with it and try to enjoy the ride.

“The Forum of the Dead” was where things started to go a bit wonky. It started off as another simple idea: someone comes into possession of a laptop with a corrupt bookmark that, when clicked on, takes them to a web forum used by the dead. The whole thing was going to cover witchcraft and possession and the strange and valuable things squirrelled away in people’s attics, but by the end of 50,000 words I had barely scratched the surface of the story and, alarmingly, elements of it were beginning to resemble L. Ron Hubbard’s first draft for that whole Scientology thing.

Scrapping all of the effort that went into those 50,000 words – research included – wasn’t exactly a great confidence booster. Far from it. Since then, I’ve barely been able to finish anything fun and creative, which isn’t exactly spiffy.

So why am I going to put myself through all of that again? Several reasons. First and foremost, I need to get back into the writing habit again, otherwise what’s the point of this whole Lucian Poll thing? (Let me stop you there before you start.) I’ve had a story rattling around my head since “The Forum of the Dead” that I wouldn’t mind getting onto paper so I can go around thinking about some other things. I also hope that by getting back into the writing groove again I’ll start to enjoy my reading a little more. (It may just be that I’ve hit upon a string of duds on my bookshelves.) Last, but my no means least, I’m also keen to see who of my 2012 and 2013 writing buddies are taking part in this year’s event. If NaNoWriMo makes me dip more than the occasional toe into the murky waters of social media then maybe that would be a good thing too.

As for this year’s novel, it’s tentatively called “Year Zero” and, contrary to the zombie-esque title, will be a straight science fiction yarn. You may therefore see a… ah… rebranding going on here over the coming however-long. 😉 I feel I have a stronger grip on “Year Zero” than I did “The Forum of the Dead”, but it’s not burning a hole in my brain a la “The Floors”. I also reckon, should I win, 50,000 words won’t get me a huge way through the story, but I’m fairly comfortable with that. Science fiction and fantasy are a tad more forgiving of long stories than most other genres.

So, crises of confidence and life aside, you should find me at this year’s Norwich NaNo launch this coming Hallowe’en, where I’ll listen to the splendid story ideas of my fellow WriMos before stammering and blurting out mine.

If I get to the end of “Year Zero” then, with a bit of luck, I’ll have a story that fits this here blurb:


Welcome to Newich, a most unusual city.

In a strange and shapeless world, and surrounded by Erdd’s warm, blue-green oceans, there stands the makeshift metropolis of Newich, a four-hundred square mile patchwork quilt of a city. Except there’s a problem. Newich simply should not exist. Everything about the city is wrong, from its corrupted streets to its fused buildings, from its stuttering politics to its ten million lost and lonely inhabitants. But then the same could be said of Erdd itself, and the universe around it. Why else would the night skies blaze with the light of a billion, trillion stars?

No, something has gone very badly awry, something that has placed all existence on a knife-edge, and the root of it all lies somewhere in Newich. Inquisitor Eleda Paraczek is determined to unearth the truth, whatever the cost.

All she needs is the right confession.


Well, it’s early days.

In the meantime, keep your eye on the word count shown at the top of the sidebar, and be sure to crack the whip if you see me slacking. Especially given Fallout 4’s imminent release. (Come on, I’m only human!)

LP

NaNoWriMo 2013: Winner!

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It’s a short post this time around, folks, and one in which I shamelessly pat myself on the back for having gotten another NaNoWriMo under my belt.

I honestly thought I was going to fluff it this time. Last year I joked how Novembers tended to be dull affairs. This year it seems I’ve been made to eat those words! First there was the excellent World Fantasy Convention held in Brighton (my first con), then there was a cluster of birthdays (mine included), not to mention the day job rudely getting in the way, my shower blowing up, and, not insignificantly, the release of two major games consoles. Factor a lack of outline for the new novel into the mix and I was seriously considering easing up those NaNo reins this year.

But, thanks largely to the support from one’s long-suffering other half and the encouragement from my fellow local WriMos, I made it and ahead of schedule too. Even better, the story is taking shape rather well. I don’t tend to pants stories, but, so far, it’s working.

All this, of course, means there is another novel coming your way from yours pseudonymously. It’s early days yet – 50,000 words has seen me reach the end of part one, or around the 1/3 mark – but if you would like to read a little about “The Forum of the Dead” then please high yourself to my NaNoWriMo page, below.

NaNoWriMo page of The Forum of the Dead by Lucian Poll

To celebrate cracking another NaNo, I am holding another GoodReads giveaway of my recent novel The Floors. If you would like the chance to win one of three signed copies then follow the link below and sign up.

The Floors on GoodReads – win one of three signed copies

Alternatively you can purchase The Floors from assorted online bookstores for a couple of quid, or the paperback for a tenner. Click here for all the links you’ll need, plus a three chapter sampler of the paperback edition.

I’ll be back soonish with more thoughts on publishing The Floors, then who knows what blathering lies ahead? 🙂

Laters, ‘taters.

Things I’ve learned (#2)

With NaNoWriMo 2013 looming ever closer I’m taking the opportunity to jot down my thoughts on the year gone by, in which I wrote and published my novel The Floors. Self-indulgence aside I hope some of these discussions prove useful to anyone thinking of giving self-publishing a whirl, or, at the very least, raise a titter along the way.

In my last post I vowed not to hamstring my next book with a release date. In this post I’ll discuss:

Professional edits: why you’ll need one, and their pros and cons

One could argue the recent revolution in self-publishing has presented, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times.

The best of times: in short, the shackles are off.

Yes, writers rejoice! No longer do they need to endlessly court agents and publishers! No longer do they need to clumsily alter uncool characters, or shoehorn their story into a different, more popular genre! No longer do they need to strip every shred of personality from their prose to fit the house style. They can finally write their story their way, dammit! Et cetera, et cetera, yada-yada-yada.

Readers rejoice too! They can better explore fiction outside the homogenous pool of sure-things and bandwagon-jumping drek spoonfed them by lazy publishers! They want improbably-libidinous vampires bedding anything that moves during the inevitable zombie apocalypse? They got it! They want to read Cthulhu bedding everything that moves during… er… the inevitable zombie apocalypse? Well, whatever floats their boat. And, look, the prices are dirt cheap! Everyone wins, right? Right? Hmm.

The worst of times: in short, the shackles are off.

No matter what you think about those lofty guardians of letters and words, when quality assurance is transferred from publisher to writer there’s an increased risk of inferior work resulting from it. Yes, some writers can squat down and curl 2000 words of award-winning prose before breakfast. Bully for them. Most everyone else will need a second, third, fourth pair of eyes over their work – self-publishers doubly so.

Why? Well, for every wannabe writer you hear bemoaning how insanely difficult it is to break into the publishing world you can hear another reader bemoaning the shitty quality of a self-published book they’ve picked up. When that happens you know immediately that the writer has not treated the reader with the respect they deserve.

Few writers go out of their way to write a bad book, granted, but at the same time it is down to any author to make sure their work is clean of errors and a bloody good read to boot. It is not enough for the writer to shelter a poor grasp of English beneath their surefire bestselling idea – it simply undermines writing standards and literacy levels. Likewise it is not enough to eloquently describe in florid, painstaking detail the soul-crushingly boring lives of their flaccid characters – it serves only to shorten attention spans further.

When gauging quality, however, most writers will be a poor judge of their work. Commercial writers have their editors to keep their prose in check. If wannabes wish to be taken seriously, by agents and publishers or by the audience they hope to grow themselves, they’ll need a professional opinion too. They need someone to say where a story isn’t working. They need to know where sentences, paragraphs, or entire plots are flagging. They need to know when a typo, a homonym, or just a flat-out wrong word has slipped into the text. This is tough to do when emotionally invested in the work.

When writing The Floors I was determined to seek opinion from fellow horror fiction fans and a professional. I wanted to know how well the story fared in a cold read, and received valuable feedback from my test readers as a result. At the same time I wanted to know how well the story fared from someone who lives, works, eats, shits and breathes sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction, and so I hired the editing services of a well-respected agent.

Having come out the other end of a professional edit I feel a little more qualified to discuss the experience, warts and all, so here goes.

1) A professional edit is costly
I mentioned the cost of mine in an earlier post. If you are serious about your work then you will see this cost as an investment. You are, after all, writing something to sell, be it to an agent, a publisher or direct to the reader. It pays to be professional.
Before you reach for your chequebook, however, know that not every investment succeeds. Some fail, and spectacularly so. Therefore, like all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose. If you and your family are going to go hungry while you chase your writerly dream it’s time to reassess your priorities.

2) A friend or loved one won’t cut it as an editor
You may not want to shell out for a pro edit, particularly if you don’t fancy your odds of success. Fair enough. You may have in mind a friend or loved one who has a solid grasp of the English language. Don’t go there. Hell, you may even know someone who works in the publishing industry. Still don’t go there. Why? Because that person is less likely to give you both barrels when you need it most in case they hurt your feelings. If you must do it on the cheap seek out an independent critique from a local writer’s group or from somewhere like Absolute Write, but be aware that sometimes your peers will pick holes in something just for the sake of doing so.

3) Establish early on what you can expect from an edit
So you decide to invest in an edit. Good for you. Before stumping up any cash, however, establish exactly what it is you are paying for. A good, professional editor will detail what he or she will do for you. Some will simply go through your manuscript, line by line, editing anything iffy they come across and emailing back the edited manuscript. Others will also add notes and explanations of what they have done. Some may even give you an appraisal of your work. I was fortunate enough to see several helpful notes and criticisms made throughout the manuscript following a line-edit of The Floors. It was an added bonus that gave me a real sense of how the story was panning out, and something I really appreciated, even when some of those comments really stung, which leads me to…

4) Do not anticipate sugar-coated criticism…
Put simply, you want to know where your story stinks before your readers do. It is at this point you would see a little less honesty from that friend or loved one I mentioned earlier. You need an impartial eye, someone who isn’t there to spare your feelings.
My editor warned me in advance that some of the opinions he’d expressed were a bit on the strong side. He wasn’t joking, and yet, however much his comments stung, they were a useful barometer of how he was feeling at various points throughout the story. For example, when The Floors tap-danced a couple of miles over the line of decency I knew from his comments that I would need to rein in the story’s excesses – especially as my bad guy was becoming so vile that readers would want to skip ahead.
No matter how annoyed you may feel, you must take any criticism on the chin and use it to improve your work. Don’t moan about being misunderstood, blah, blah, blah. Your story didn’t connect as well as you’d hoped. Improve it, otherwise you may find far harsher criticism when your book attracts online reviews!

5) …but do expect new, precious insights into your work
My edit wasn’t all bad news. Far from it. There were chapters in The Floors where I felt the writing had really flowed, or where I had done my best to grip the reader and get those pages turning, and I was delighted to see only a handful of words edited during these parts. There were also notes highlighting when I was doing something well, but perhaps not doing it often or early enough.
As my manuscript had been edited with “Track Changes” switched on it was clear to see those words that had clogged up a sentence, or those unnecessary sentences that had slowed up the story. Despite my best efforts to keep the story zipping along it was interesting to see those writerly tics that had nevertheless remained: words like “however”, “had”, “that” and “nevertheless”, which can often be removed from a sentence with no harm done.
On top of these were some really helpful pointers on things I would never have picked up on. For example, The Floors is told in restricted third-person, or “over the shoulder” mode, if you will, and I was criticised for occasional lapses in POV (point of view). For example, in the prologue, I had originally carried on the narrative a little after Clive dies beneath the gun turrets – something the character couldn’t possibly experience given he’s suddenly been shot to bits and all that. (A quick section break inserted and – boom – it’s fixed.)

6) A professional edit is not “The End”
Don’t be tempted to think that an edited manuscript marks your finished copy. Far from it. If your editor has offered criticism of your work then you’d be a fool not to act upon it. You owe it to your readers, after all. And even if your manuscript is returned with nary a criticism in sight you need to take into account one crucial, indisputable fact, namely…

7) Your editor is a human being
As hard as that may seem, it’s true. You are dealing with someone who sometimes makes mistakes. We all make them. If we didn’t make mistakes then you wouldn’t need an editor in the first place and we’d all shit gold for kicks and piss the finest wines. Even if you’re facing the millionth readthrough of a manuscript you are thoroughly sick of reading, read it you must. You may find your editor has introduced errors of their own while attempting to iron out yours. You may also find an error of yours that slipped under the radar. (I found half a dozen when rereading The Floors.)
I would also stress the above point should you feel a need to express dissatisfaction at the edit, or if the thing is taking longer than expected to complete. Remember, your editor is probably a one-man/woman operation and shit happens. People get ill. Life gets in the way. Before you go off half-cocked, step back and see the bigger picture. And if that release date you put on your book a year in advance is getting too close for comfort then more fool you! 😉

8) You don’t have to agree with everything your editor says
I certainly didn’t, but, as I was always going to publish The Floors myself, I could wield more creative control and take more risks than a commercial author. If the book falls flat on its arse, then it’s on me. If you are gunning for a sweet publishing deal, however, then you’d probably be better advised digesting a lot more of what your editor says. You can still disagree – it’s still your book and one person’s opinion of it – but you might scupper your book’s chances of making the grade if you don’t heed the warning signs.

So there you have it. A monster post on pro edits. I hope some of that made sense! Having put The Floors through a professional edit I can honestly say the experience has been a positive one. The insights John Jarrold provided me will be valuable for my future projects.

Have my sales covered the cost? No, or at least not yet. 😉 But then I’m comfortable with Lucian’s folly. As long as I know my stories are the best I can make them, and, crucially, that they don’t take the piss out of the reader, then I’ll continue to be happy.

Right, that’s plenty ’nuff blathering for a while! I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention next weekend, so, with luck, I’ll have a whole bunch of holiday snaps with which to bore… er… delight you! (In the meantime you may see a small promotional post here for the shindig.)

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again!

Things I’ve learned (#1)

So, with NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, and the promise of an entirely new and exciting novel to work on, now is perhaps a good time to review the past twelve months and sum up what I have learned in getting The Floors out of my head and into your hands.

There may be a few of these posts over the next however-long, but I’ll keep the self-indulgence to a minimum if I can. Hell, you might even find some of these insights informative, or at least leavened with the occasional knob gag. Maybe.

Anyway, let’s kick things off with this little pearl of wisdom:

Don’t saddle yourself with a release date!

Release dates are funny old things. They’re applied to all sorts of products that seldom need them. Often it’s a bid to boost initial sales of a book, a video game, a DVD etc; a simple ploy to increase the cachet of a product by pushing it into a bestseller chart of some description. (We can argue the dubious value of the term “bestseller” another time.)

Then you have what I’ll call the vanity release date – chosen either because it has a tenuous link to the product in question, or because it simply looks cool on a poster. (Movies and TV shows have been flogging this dead horse for the last decade or so.)

With regard to The Floors, I couldn’t help it. Vanity got the better of me. A novel based around a maze of thirteenth floors demanded a 2013 release date. Sticking it out in the middle of 2014 would have just looked odd. Friday 13th seemed a natural date to use – the first in 2013 being September. For a story involving a ton of unlucky floors it made sense to choose one of the two unluckiest dates in the calendar. (We’ve another Friday 13th in December.) Bingo! I had my release date. My mistake was in announcing it a year in advance. I found adhering to it introduced a fair number of challenges.

The main challenge was in producing a book within a relatively short space of time. Not only are we talking about getting a 100,000 word story up to scratch, but all the ancillary bits too: producing a cover, creating the interior artwork, typesetting, proofing, designing adverts, creating artwork for the blog, Twitter and so on. You wanna know why books take so goddam long to come out? I believe I can field that question!

Another challenge was in managing the human element, and the slippage it sometimes introduced. I won’t cite specifics here as that would be mean of me. Besides, we got there in the end with no harm done. In some regards it worked out better than expected!

In short, a release date introduced unnecessary pressures into the project. That said there were positives to be had too, chief among them a real focus in getting the job done. A deadline gave me a good idea what it would be like to write professionally, or, given that writing pays dick these days, writing to a contract alongside my day job. It proved to me that I could do it, I’m just not entirely sure I would want to. (Wave a contract in my face, of course, and my heart may say otherwise! 😀 )

But there was another reason why I needed The Floors published sooner rather than later, and one that didn’t hang on any particular date: I simply needed to get the story out of my head. And, as wanky as it sounds, I would stress the word needed. I’ve mentioned a few times how this story was burning a hole through my mind. I wasn’t joking. It was getting to a point where I couldn’t sleep. If my mind strayed into anything to do with The Floors then that was it: I’d lie awake until 3 or 4 in the morning while my brain buzzed over plot details, scenes I had planned, cool new scenes to add in, and so on. Not good with a full working day lying only a couple of hours ahead!

If my next story possesses me to the same extent, so be it – I’ll take it as a good sign – but I won’t chew my fingernails to the bones with worry if it doesn’t.

So with my next project you won’t see me announcing its release anytime soon. I have a deadline in mind (Halloween 2014), but I won’t be putting myself under the same kind of pressure to meet it.

That’s enough blathering for now, folks. Next up, I’ll have some words to say about  professional edits. Are they worth it? What can you expect from one? That kind of thing.

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again, whydoncha?

So long, second draft! (And let the ads begin!)

Howdy, campers, it’s your favourite Lucian-Poll-named alter-ego here with a final view of The Floors’ second draft. You know, The Floors? Tut, tut, tut. I know I’ve been away a little while but even my memory isn’t that bad. (Actually it is. It’s a wonder I can still walk out of the house fully-clothed these days.)

Anyway, allow me to give you a quick recap of my most recent obsession:

The Floors - Coming Soon

“The one about thirteenth floors.” Yes, that’s the one. 🙂

So in the last post I was having a fine old time ploughing through the middle third of the book and was looking forward to tackling the white-knuckle ride finale. Well, after a further 17 days I’m glad to say not only did I get the final third down but also a full read-through and a polish to boot, finishing two days ahead of schedule.

You know what that means? Yes! I’m free of The Floors for another six weeks! I can go to bed now and not have my mind whirring over plot complexities for three hours before sleep finally takes me! I can read other people’s stories again and forget about my own for a little while!

In short, my brain gets to recharge. I’ll have one final run-though of the manuscript starting 13th July 2013, but until then it’s time to rock n’ roll with the fun stuff again: artwork for this here blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc; supplementary materials for the printed copy, such as fake news stories; a much-delayed look at publishing through SmashWords; and also looking into the more admin-related stuff of being a self-publishing author. (ISBN numbers, anyone? Stay tuned, I may have something for you.)

In the meantime my story won’t be resting on its laurels. I am both thrilled and monumentally nervous to have quickly gathered a team of ardent horror fiction fans to put the story through its paces with a test read. I hope by the next post to have also secured super-agent John Jarrold’s services for a professional edit. Their combined findings will inform the work necessary come 13th July.

Regarding the edit, one of the aims was to get the word count under 100K. I failed, but only just, and that was mainly due to some cool new scenes that really had to go in. Another important aim was to trim away the fat of each sentence to make sure the reader doesn’t nod off before every full stop. If you’d like to know the rules I tried to follow here’s a brief rundown that may help your own projects:

  1. My first draft had umpteen sentences dragged out with things like “could see”, “could feel” and “could sense”, when, really, most of the time, “saw”, “felt” and “sensed” worked just as well, especially in fast-flowing action scenes.
  2. With perhaps one eye on NaNoWriMo word counts at the time, I found sentences in the first draft with entirely unnecessary lead-ins or lead-outs. Stuff such as “No sooner had XXX done YYY than…”. It takes a few reads of a sentence before you realise the thing works just as well when cut in half, but when you spot them it’s a good feeling.
  3. Descriptions of thoughts and feelings. Such things often constituted “telling” and not “showing”, which puts an unnecessary and unwelcome degree of separation between the reader and the character. Many such descriptions of thoughts and feelings were therefore replaced with either lines of dialogue or actual thoughts.
  4. That. There were way too many “thats” in the first draft. Same went for “had”. You’d be amazed how often you can get rid of these and not affect the meaning of a sentence. Most of them are therefore gone from the second draft.
  5. Commas. Now, the grammarians out there are going to hate me for this, but I had the temerity to remove a lot of commas that, technically, ought to be there, particularly when listing things. (As for the Oxford comma, that can just bugger off for a start.) I only did this to help maintain a quick read. If the test reads and professional edit come back with a C- for such gross misconduct then I’ll reinstate them in the final draft. Hey, it’s not like I’m Cormac McCarthy, or anything. (More’s the pity.)

Moving on, I’m delighted to report that my adverts are starting to appear. Here’s the first for you:

The first advert!

The first advert!

The “Exiiit” sign is a theme I’ve used in all the teaser ads to help convey the familiar yet otherworldly delights you’ll find in The Floors. (The lightning also plays a part.) You’ll see a larger version of this ad in Cemetery Dance issue 70, and a lightning-free (but cool full-colour) version in issue 19 of Scream Magazine. I’ll post piccies when I see them.

I must give a massive thank you to Andy Cox at TTA Press for placing the advert. Not only that but you can see quotes from my review of Spin by Nina Allan inside the current issues of both Black Static and Interzone, which is mondo cool, and really helps to establish Lucian Poll as a new name to perhaps look out for. It certainly made for a brilliant end to an otherwise typical Monday! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: if you like a particular genre then hunt out and subscribe to dedicated magazines like Black Static, Interzone, Cemetery Dance, Albedo One, etc. You will almost certainly be turned onto new and varied voices in the field as a result and that can only be A Good Thing.

So on that note I’ll hop down from my soap box and will take my leave of you until next time. Many thanks for stopping by. Your continued readership is always appreciated, and I hope to see you in my next wee missive.

Now then, I’ve got approximately 0.998 British Libraries making up my to-be-read pile. Which hefty tome will it be? Hmm…

Another view from the second draft (and, finally, the big reveal!)

What-ho, my good people, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again with a wee update on The Floors.

In my last Floors-related missive I spent a tortuous couple hundred words essentially berating Previous Me, and the shortcuts the lazy sod had taken in getting sufficient words down for NaNoWriMo.

Having now fully repaired all 50-odd thousand words accrued during that time my dim view of Previous Me has not changed. When they start selling Tardises on QVC then Previous Me had better start looking over his shoulder. (Paradoxes be damned!)

Aaaaaaanyway, you find me this post in a much more cheery frame of mind, chiefly because the edit is going a lot smoother now. Those oases of good writing that were once so rare in the first draft are getting bigger and closer together. It’s a sign I was getting nearer to the kind of book I originally wanted to write, but only once the pressure was off.

The starkest illustration of this is in the time taken to get to the 2/3 completed stage. 32 days were spent largely rewriting and repairing the first 1/3 of The Floors, while it has only taken 10 days to sail through the second 1/3. (Indeed, this weekend saw my word count jump by 14,000 thanks in part to a couple of very satisfying chapters.)

That’s not to say NaNoWriMo was a mistake. Far from it. I loved the challenge, the adversity, the community spirit and the immense satisfaction of reaching the 50K mark. Most of all I loved the positive noises I heard as I (invariably badly) explained my story to fellow WriMos. Will I do it again? Almost certainly, but for 2013 I’ll have to invest some extra time fleshing out a more thorough outline before the event. Future Previous Me will have to pull his socks up.

(I think that sentence just about works.)

Before all that, of course, I still have the final 1/3 of The Floors to edit. I’m quite literally saving the best for last! (I say that with fingers crossed, of course.)

In other news:

On the promotional front, all of the adverts mentioned in a previous post have been created, approved and paid for. You’ll see a teaser advert for The Floors in issue 70 of Cemetery Dance and another in issue 19 of Scream, both out in the summer. (Full ads will then appear in the following issue of each.) Andy Cox at TTA Press may also slot a few ads in future issues of their mighty fine magazines Black Static and Interzone, which is jaw-droppingly kind of him and makes for a happy Mr Poll.

See?

I’ll pop the ads on here shortly for your edification – seems daft not to! They each feature a hashtag, #fearthefloors, in case anyone has a compulsion to get in touch over Twitter regarding the story, good or bad, when it’s released in September. How effective the hashtag will be only time will tell.

Going back to the guys at TTA Press, they have most generously offered space on their stand at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention 2013 to fellow attending small presses and self-publishers, which is mucho coolio. Oh, did I say they’re offering to do this without taking a cut? See, I’m telling you, these are the good guys you need to support. Needless to say I held up both hands straight away, saying “yespleasememememememe!!!” So, if you are attending WFC 2013, then not only do you get the chance to laugh at my silly facial hair but you can also buy a real tangible discounted print copy of The Floors and watch as I accidentally sign my real name on the title page. You lucky, lucky people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the coming weeks I hope to have the second draft licked, and then out for a professional edit and some test reads. While that’s all going on I’ll work on getting some decals prepared for this here blog and getting the cover right for the print copy. (Thanks to CreateSpace for providing NaNoWriMo 2012 winners with up to 5 free copies of their book – this is an excellent way of creating proofs.)

Cover… cover… cover. Hmm. Why does that ring a bell? Oh, that’s right. I promised you a spot of cover art, didn’t I? Well, never let it be said I’m not a pseudonym of my word. Given that today marks the “4 months to go, holy shit!” mark, here, for your viewing pleasure, is my near-as-dammit final cover for The Floors. (Drum roll.)

The Floors - available Friday, 13th September 2013

The Floors – available Friday, 13th September 2013

You can click on the cover for a humungous blow-up of the image, otherwise here is the blurb.

HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a particular button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

Well, I hope that’s suitably grabbed your interest. Stay tuned, folks, as these coming months are going to be quite a ride! Until then, it’s back to the final 1/3 for me and I’ll see you in the next post!

A View From The Second Draft

PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING
Those with strong to severe analogy allergies are advised to seek medical advice before attempting to read the following blog posting. Those suffering alliteration ailments should perhaps have avoided that first sentence just then. Sorry about that.

– Ministry of Weak Writing, April 2013.

On the outskirts of Norwich there is a pleasant unbroken stretch of road that curves gently downhill in a series of S-bends. It is a tree-lined gem of satisfying inward cambers, so short as to barely last half a minute, and yet it is a stretch of road that can still make one’s long-suffering better half say “wheeeeee!” as she drives down it. (I can’t drive. This, World, is A Good Thing, trust me.)

This unassuming stretch of road is a little oasis of driving pleasure in an otherwise shitty farrago of one-way systems, potholes, traffic lights and altogether terrible drivers that blight the majority of Norwich’s roads.

Why am I telling you this, particularly if I can’t even bloody drive? All in good time, or 400 words, whichever comes first.

Any road, welcome to my view from the second draft of The Floors. Frankly it’s all a bit bleak! I knew I needed to do some repair work following the bugger’s rush that was NaNoWriMo, but sheesh! I never expected to need rewrite virtually every one of the first 20,000 words! If Present Me ever catches up with Previous Me there’ll be hell to pay. Throw a “Beef this bit up in the 2nd draft” into a couple of chapters, would you, Previous Me? Why I oughta…

So, yeah, this second draft has been a tough cookie so far. The readthrough of the first draft was perhaps two-thirds a horror show of writing and one-third horror story, but overall it was an incredibly useful exercise. For example, while I want The Floors to be a quick, white-knuckle read, I found the first half of the book, believe it or not, to be too quick. The action came thick and fast but at the cost of leaving the reader behind.

A lot of the time these last three or so weeks has therefore been spent squeezing more from my characters and getting their essence onto the page. My bad guy has a more believable trigger-point for his actions, for example, making for a much more satisfying opening to the book. My protagonists now have an extra dimension to them after fleshing out their backgrounds, their hopes and their fears. (Thank you Previous Me.) The dialogue has also been improved to reveal more about each character – the infamous “show, don’t tell” maxim in action.

Other weaknesses have also been identified and fixed along the way. For example, I’ve turned a fairly large and annoying plot hole into a new scene that not only fits the story like a glove but also leaves a pretty cool image in the mind. (Two words: Droste effect.) Things that I threw into the mix around 1/3 into the story have been threaded back through the narrative to help it flow better.

In short, it’s been a hell of a lot of work, the beefing-up, the repairs, the rejigging of scenes. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d recommend after long, highly-strung days of non-stop Saving The Company’s Arse. Shit like that takes it out of a guy. As a result I’m way behind schedule so I’ll have to cut this post short soon and crack on.

But what of my tiresome analogy? Well, these last three weeks have not all been me screaming “Oh, my God, what fresh hell is this?!” In my editing travels I have come across the odd page in the first draft where I’ve thought “Yeah, you know what, this is really good!” It’s these little oases of writing that help drive me towards a better draft. I can accept a hefty rewrite of a chapter in exchange for a mighty fine page every now and then. Such things only compel me to make every other damn sentence in the story grab readers by the eyes and refuse them permission to blink. They make doing this whole shebang worthwhile.

Or, in other words, “wheeeeeeee”!

So back I go, my writing toolbox in hand, to make more repairs. I’ll post another review next week while I do further battle, and then I’ll come back with an update and, if you’re good, a spot of cover artwork.

TTFN!

First draft: so long, and thanks for The End!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?

It has taken, by my reckoning, 11 weeks of fairly intensive writing, but after stringing together 102,750 words I have finally completed the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. I make that around 360-370 pages of a regular paperback in old money.

Lucian Poll's First Draft Feeling
That completed first draft feeling!

And, boy, do I feel all the better for it. You don’t believe me? Well, take a look for yourself…

It’s like I’ve undergone an exorcism, albeit one where the priest hands me the demon in a lovely bottle as a keepsake.

The overriding sensation is one of relief that I have finally gotten this story out of my head and onto paper, but, of course, the job is only really half done.

Few writers, if any, get things right first time. Those that do are liars. Hemingway, ever the writer’s go-to guy for memorable quotes, once declared that “The first draft of anything is shit.” There is, if you will forgive the pun, a ring of truth to that.

If, as it happens, you are a literary wunderkind that can get everything right first time, like some Anthony Trollope incarnate, then bully for you. For the rest of us mere mortals the first draft of a novel is going to be prone to all sorts of stuff guaranteed to make the writer’s skin crawl.

Such embarrassment doesn’t necessarily stop at typos, stilted dialogue and clunky prose, however. In a first draft you may find that you’ve dragged out an action sequence for too long, or you have scenes that seemed like a good idea at the time but no longer fit into the overall story, or you might find certain characters acting out of… erm… character. You may find that your authorial voice changes between the start and the end, or that your writing style relies too much on a phrase or sentence structure that jars the more it is noticed.

These latter problems can only really be hit upon by following a simple, albeit counterintuitive rule.

When it comes to redrafting a work it is often said that you should first put it away for a month or two and do something else in the meantime. (Stephen King is a great proponent of this approach in his book, ‘On Writing’.) That way your brain can recharge and give you the necessary distance to revisit the work with a more critical eye. You can then pick up the piece and read it in one go, making it easier to detect its weaknesses.

So that’s the plan. Doing nothing is going to be hard, though, as I’m itching to improve the story now, dammit, and I have a list of things that need beefing up or tightening. On the other hand, being a lazy bastard of some standing (but mainly sitting), doing nothing does have its charms.

Arm = twisted.

As there has been some slippage I have had to rejig my schedule of Things To Do. Easter weekend now marks the start of the second draft, which I hope to complete by the end of May. That then gives me 3 1/2 months to get a professional opinion on the manuscript, as well as placing it under the noses of a few test readers. Save for any massive failures in the story, I should then be able to knock out a final draft ready for Friday 13th September 2013.

In the meantime I’ll get busy with Inkscape and GIMP. There’s the new banner up top, for example, to tease you with. Next up is the rear cover (for the print-on-demand version I’ll put through CreateSpace) and adverts for possible placement in magazines or on flyers.

Oh, and there’s always another story to write!

Onwards!