Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Guest: Seumas Gallacher

Today I kick off an occasional series of posts written by fellow writers.

Who better to launch this new venture than friend

Seumas Gallacher

Seumas and I share three things in common: We are both long-term Ex-Pats, we both write thrillers, and we both wear skirts! But enough said about that! Without further ado, I leave you in the capable hands of Seumas:

…throwing a spammer in the works…(or, letting it all hang out there…) 

My pal and fellow scribbler, Eric Gates, him what’s let me loose on his virtual space without so much as an Interpol disclaimer or an Alsatian dog-handler present, has asked me to give some insight into life as an author in the Middle East, given that many of *us/we/us (*delete whichever you can’t grammatically handle) professional expatriate souls ply our trade in similar far-flung foreign fiefdoms (try saying that six times swiftly with a dram or three aboard.) Specifically what, if any, restrictive impact there may be creating a marketing presence for our books.

Let’s bear in mind the motto ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’. This applies to every part of our lives when we choose to live in someone else’s country (we are still guests, after all), so it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand that any material which would prove offensive in local terms should be avoided. Here in Abu Dhabi I presented each of my two crime thrillers to the National Media Council for pre-approval prior to publication. I found the process simple enough, and was pleasantly surprised by the courtesy and professionalism I met. Suffice to say that one small bedroom scene (three tiny paragraphs) had to be removed, altering my story line not one iota.

Then I was set to go.

What next then for the swashbuckling author-y pioneer?

I decided to invest a modest financial outlay as part of my business campaign of creating reader interest, in pretty much the same way that any of us might do in Weymouth, Peebles, or Swansea. I hired a hotel banquet area to formally launch my masterpieces (both at once---get me, Mama!) and invited anybody daft enough to accept my free wine, beer and finger foods. (Amazing how that little word ‘free’ does help). Having local magazine columnists at the ‘freebie’ was a given, and Hey Presto! print inches appear, bedecked with pictures of my kilted frame (Braveheart, eat your heart out!)

Next on the agenda was bugging the ears off the local large book distributors to carry the tomes (which I’ve had printed myself), letting them know that these two have attracted an aggregate of 40,000+ downloads on Kindle in the last year. Clincher! They smell money. They’re now smelling my books on their shelves. The first lot was delivered to them yesterday, courtesy of Master Gallacher’s Delivery Haulage Service. So, fingers and all other digits and pieces crossed, they’ll haunt the local best-seller charts in sharp course.

Short summary of all of the above is quite simple for me…if you wanna see your books out there, get yourself out there, do talks, guest speaking engagements, signings, push, push, push. It’s no longer appropriate for authors merely to write, If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Seumas' crime thriller novels:

UPDATE: Seumas has been named 'BLOGGER OF THE YEAR' - this is his first step to World Domination, of that I'm sure. Soon we will all have to wear skirts; not sure if I've got the legs for it! He's also published a collection of his fantastic blog posts, humourous and entertaining even if you are not a Blogger:

When Seumas isn't writing great thrillers, he can also be found here:

See you next time.  Click for Interpol Disclaimer

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

“I think I want to write fiction. What should I do now?”

This morning I woke with the idea this was going to be a normal, productive, writing day. I knew I wanted to add a couple of things to my website, and I had some non-writing stuff to get out of the way first, but my main idea was to sit down in front of my computer and write for ten or twelve hours. 

Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.

I did my non-scribbling things hastily, driven by the need to take up the current novel where I’d left it last night. Then I spent an hour on my web update. Then the day-changer happened.

I e-mail with fellow fiction writers and my own readers fairly frequently. I spend quite a bit of time responding to the latter group. Hell, if they have taken the time and made the effort to write to me, I should do the same. So I innocently opened my e-mail accounts and worked my way through. Halfway through the last account (my web’s Contact Eric feed) I came across this…

[WHOA! Don’t worry, YOU! I’m not going to reproduce the whole mail, only the subject line]

“I think I want to write fiction. What should I do now?” !!!!

(the exclamation marks are mine…here’s a few more !!!!....!!...!)

What the ….???!?

Suddenly, all dreams of writing my novel until my fingers bled were swept from my mind.

Hell’s Teeth!!! What an opportunity!!!!!

The poor misguided soul who had posed the question was playing with fire here!!!!!

(Sorry, the exclamation mark key now has a mind of its own!!!!!!!!!!!)

Here’s my answer, YOU. (This is going to be a loonnngggg post, but please bear with me – I hope it will be worth your persistence).

If you’re thinking about writing fiction, DON’T (write, I mean, not think.)

If you find yourself unable to sleep at night because you are mentally writing huge chunks of exciting prose; miss your stop because you’ve concentrated on solving a plot point; tuned-out in a meeting because you’ve just had a breakthrough about how to put an incredible twist into your narrative… if you are irritable with your loved ones; don’t return phone calls; have withdrawal symptoms when you’ve not written something that day… THEN, you’re ready! Not before.

Novels feed off passion – your passion. Your emotions pass through the words in a sort of literary osmosis straight into the readers mind, stimulating images and excitement therein – or at least that’s how it should be. If you don’t experience the passion, stick to writing shopping lists... Please.

So what’s next?

There’s a humongous amount of books, blogs, courses, etc. out there telling you ‘all’ you want to know about writing. Some of it is glib and useless, usually written by ‘established’ authors who have forgotten the pain and sacrifice of their humble origins (How to win friends and influence people – chapter 47). Then there’s advice, often well thought-out and presented, from experienced writers with true altruistic motivation who want to help other aspiring writers. But, quite a bit of this is centred on the ‘old paradigm’ of ‘traditional’ publishing. While that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant, it can be unintentionally misleading, and is often deliberately biased. Then there’s people who are passionate about this whole business, and sufficiently down-to-earth to take an objective approach. These are the most useful, in my opinion. I hope, when you reach the end of this massive missive, you’ll class me as one of the latter.

What would I suggest? I’ll try to make it as simple as I can. 

  1. Write your novel! Just get it down on paper! Don’t bother about spelling, grammar and the rest of that stuff; concentrate on telling your tale. How? We’ll this in of itself is another mind-blowing question. My simple answer? Read at least 2 of James N. Frey’s books: Read the generic “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (Amazon link: and the nearest genre-specific one to what you want to write (‘How to write a Damn Good Thriller’ was and is one of the best investments I have ever made.) James has a no-nonsense style of explanation; his books are chock full of superb pragmatic advice. You can do no wrong here, bro.
  2. Write until your fingers bleed. No, I don’t mean that literally, but writing isn’t something you do for ten minutes every other day, when it’s raining, and the dog isn’t clamouring for a walk.
  3. Make constant (every ten minutes) saves of everything. When you get to the end of a chapter (or end of a day’s writing) make at least one copy on a thumb drive and keep it on your person – that way if your PC overheats (through writing so much) and sets your house on fire, you won’t lose months of work. That has happened to me, minus the resultant house fire, though.
  4. Don’t discuss your story with anyone at this stage. That includes the wife/husband/lover/co-worker. The only exceptions? The dog (or cat). If you find yourself listening to their advice – for God’s sake, take a break!
  5. Once you’ve written your tale, run it through your word processor’s spell-checker, with all the options turned on. Take your time over this; don’t blindly except the suggested corrections – think about them and learn.
  6. Then run it through some self-editing software, such as Stylewriter (well worth the investment – link: Again, make sure all the options are switched on; especially check that it is set on Fiction (you’re not writing term papers now!) and that the correct English set is selected (US, UK etc.) This will also take some time – probably days. It’s well worth it – again think before making ANY changes.
  7. You should now have a decent First Draft. Good, but this is the start… Print it out, double spaced, single-sided (yes, on paper. Seriously) and switch off your computer. I said unplug it!
  8. Go do something non-writing related for a couple of weeks. Snail-wrangling in the Peruvian mountains is a personal favourite.
  9. Then, find a quiet room, away from your PC. Lock yourself in; no interruptions. Read your First Draft aloud – interpret the dialogue, live the words. Make changes, add stuff, cross out whole paragraphs/pages (painful, isn’t it?)… EVOLVE your work! You’ll pick up things that don’t work; dialogue that sounds stilted; tangent storylines that go nowhere; pacing that doesn’t do what you want (if you’re yawning, imagine the hell you’re putting your readers through) and a long etcetera. This is one of the best and most productive steps in writing a novel; believe me – do it once and you’ll convince yourself.
  10. When you have finished reading the whole manuscript, not before, go back to your PC (it will have cooled down by then) and apply the changes. Don’t worry if you find yourself changing even more stuff as well – that’s just creative juices flowing.
  11. Repeat steps 5) and 6). Now you’ll have a Second Draft.
  12. Find some people and coerce, threaten, blackmail them into reading copies of your tale and providing you with DETAILED comments and suggestions. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, you will never speak to them again, babysit, walk their dog or whatever unless they give you a no-holds-barred critique. If what you’ve written is crap, they should say so – AND tell you why! Real friends will reveal themselves at this juncture in your life.
  13.  Read through all their suggestions – apply those you think will improve your work. Don’t discuss what you are doing, even with the dog! (at this stage it's got its own agenda!)
  14. Repeat steps 5) and 6) again. You’ll be seeing the text in your worst nightmares by now with stuff highlighted as infinite corrections dance before your eyes. Good. That’s progress.
  15. Find a professional, experienced Editor, ideally with several books under their belts in the same genre as your own– this will give them a better feel for the market segment and how to tweak the text to home in on your potential readers. This is expensive; the good ones aren’t cheap. They usually charge by the word for a full line edit, so if you’ve written a 150,000-word epic or a five-volume fantasy you want to publish all at once, prepare yourself.
  16. Apply the changes you feel warranted. Remember, editors will help you polish your prose, make it more efficient and acceptable to Joe Public, but they won’t have your passion for the tale.
  17.  Repeat steps 5) and 6). Yeah, I know: by now you hate the book. Good. We are almost there.
  18. Repeat steps 7), 8), 9), 10) and 11) – now you’ll have a Final Draft.
  19. Now it’s decision time. How do you want to publish it? Basically if you want to get your work out to a paying public, you have three options:   a)   Self-publishing, or the Indie route, b) Traditional publishing, or the patience route or c ) which is a while waiting for b. If a) is your choice, then find a reputable, experienced platform (many of the good ones are free) that have tools to help you get covers designed, text formatted, etc. If it’s b) then Patience. Start sending out Query letters to Literary Agents. Patience. Send out more query letters. Patience. Try to find an agent that works in your genre. Patience. While waiting, do step 22). If it’s c, read on.
  20. Decide how you want to market your book. You’ll need to do this irrespective of which route you took in the previous step. Check out the options. Note: it’s never too soon to market. I’m already writing about ‘the CULL’ and it’s not out for 2 months yet and ‘Leaving Shadows’ and that’s not out until May of next year! Generate some undercurrent today! “But hey, I chose route 2 – don’t the big publishing firms do your marketing?” you say. Simple answer; NO! Complex answer: NO, not with the passion you’ll put into it!
  21. Take a blank sheet of paper. Write out your expectations for your novel (copies sold, royalties, anything else you want). When finished, burn that page! Take another sheet of paper, halve the previous figures, then halve them again. Lastly, halve them! That’s reality, babe! Any improvement on what you have now, is GOOD NEWS!
  22. Write another book!!!!!!!!!!!! (damn, it’s happening again!!!!!) Here’s a super, secret, highly confidential marketing tip: Books sell books! (Don’t tell anyone!) Yeah, you’ve got it. You find a writer on Amazon; never heard of them (that’s you, now). One book to their name. Okay, you’ll give them a shot. Great read, want more, but… Take a look at the bestseller lists – most have multiple titles to their name. Plus, to become a better writer you need to write often. What’s your objective here? Simple: you want your readers to love you, not just [insert the title of your only novel]. Remember, people talk about Lee Child’s latest novel, not about another book by that guy who wrote whatsitsname. They call this Branding – personally I hate the phrase, but the idea is sound.
  23.  One magic day the postman will deliver a parcel, or maybe you’ll log on to Amazon and download it to your e-reader. It will be YOUR NOVEL. There’s nothing like that feeling! You’ll only get it once, so savour it. Even when it’s book two, or three, it won’t be quite the same.
  24. Another magic day will come. Again the postman with a letter this time, or maybe, if you’re lucky (yes, this is a friendly dig at my chums at Amazon KDP) it will be an EFT transfer. It is your first royalty payment! It won’t be much, but it’ll have an emotional value greater than Pure Gold!
  25. Grab your loved ones (remember them,? You’ve been ignoring them for months now; they may not even be on speaking terms anymore; they may have even moved house.) Take them out for a celebration – blow the royalties cash that day –all of it! They deserve it – hey, and don’t forget your writing partner – the dog!
  26.   Repeat 1-25. Welcome to the Writing Life!
More tips on my website!

      Eric @

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What the **** is a Thriller, anyway?

SPOILER ALERT – In the following I do reveal a few secrets about my novels. Just a few. Not enough to spoil them for the reader. But if you want to be totally surprised by my tales, then please don’t read any more! STOP, NOW!

One of the most frustrating questions I am asked from time to time is ‘what kind of novels do you write?’
I normally stick to a nebulous ‘thrillers’ and hope the interrogator will settle for that. Alas often ‘what kind of thrillers?’ is the next thing I hear.

You would think it was an easy question to answer. I am, after all, the bloke who has spent months and months writing the beasts; surely I must know where they slot in in the general gamut of the thriller genre? Yet I do find that a complex issue to resolve.

Thrillers, as a genre, is really a collective description for a style of novel rather than a specific type. I like James N. Frey’s description, in his excellent book ‘How to write a Damn Good Thriller’. There he states that “writing a thriller is like riding a bobsled down Mount Everest. You can let your imagination run. You can make up wild and crazy characters and stuff them into woodchoppers. You can blow up cities. Lop heads off. Sink ships. Go to Mars. In the world of thriller writing, anything goes—as long as you thrill your audience.”

That description says it all. There are references to sci-fi, horror, dystopian, disaster and terrorist themes in that description. So why bother about sub-divisions. Isn’t it just about thrilling your audience as he states?

He goes on to quote the “American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language” which defines a thriller as fiction "that thrills, especially a sensational or suspenseful book, story, play, or movie." He makes references to pacing, to emotional rushes, to suspenseful sensations and to exhilaration-driven narrative. What he doesn’t say is that they are sci-fi, romance, horror, chick-lit, psychological, paranormal, YA, or any of the other popular categories.

Why’s that?

That’s an easy one to answer: because a thriller can be ANY of those. Thrillers are more about the way you write your tales than the kind of tales themselves. So we could have a Horror thriller and a Technological thriller side by side and although their story lines would be radically distinct, their essence, thrilling their audience, is the same. Yes, I have just compared Robert Bloch’s ‘Psycho’ with Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’. Why not? They are both outstanding thrillers.

So back to the question ‘what kind of thrillers do I write?’

If pushed I will say something like ‘contemporary thrillers with a paranormal twist’. Sounds good, doesn’t it. 

Contemporary (present-day, dealing with 21st Century issues) and paranormal (weird things that happen in our world). For me, that just about covers it. After all ‘2012’ deals with the End of the World brought on by a fanatical Spanish businessman with an imminent war between China and the United States over oil resources as a backdrop; ‘Full Disclosure’ is a covert Special Operations caper with drug trafficking overtones, set at a moment when the US President announces contact with extraterrestrials; ‘the CULL’ is about the tracking down of a serial killer, set in a world where real vampires exist, products of genetic mutations; and ‘Leaving Shadows’ involves the kidnapping of a high-level spy and weather warfare. 

So yes, contemporary and paranormal.

Although I usually end up giving that answer, I’m not happy about it. Why? Simple really. As we all know, the whole writing business is going through a complete shake-up and reorientation at the moment. E-books don’t just mean a new support for the reader but greater opportunities for the writer. My argument is that now is the time to break moulds, to try out stuff, to do something new. In short, to push the limits of preestablished labels.

So, you out there! Yes you! The writer! The one cowering behind the manuscript! Don’t follow the herd. Find your own path. Do something different. Werewolves and space monsters? Why not? Romantic spies? Go for it! Be original.

"Stick labels in your pipe, and smoke 'em!"
When I power up my PC, for a brief instant a few words flash onto the screen before Win-doze chimes in. These words are my favourite Einstein quotation: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” He also said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

So to all of the aspiring thriller writers out there: ignore labels, go embrace the entire world! Let your readers put labels on what you write if they want to. If you’re lucky, they’ll call your novels “the books I love to read” rather than…