How Hosting a Podcast Has Changed My Writing Life

inspire-2580579_1280

Hosting a podcast is changing my writing life.

I know, I know. We’ve been here before. Me talking all excited and motivated. Telling you about how I’ll be blogging every week. But this time I mean it. Honest. Wipe that smirk off your face and get with the programme, will you? I’m trying to be serious here.

Joking aside, for the past couple of months I have been putting out regular content, with my weekly podcast – Joined Up Writing. Originally conceived with and co-hosted by Leah Osbourne, the show began in 2014 based around the idea of two aspiring writers talking about all things writing. Over time it developed to focus on long-form interviews with established writers, from the world of Traditional and Indie Publishing. After a sporadic release schedule at the beginning of the year, Leah decided to move on and I relaunched the show in August with a packed roster of guests and new quick-hit bonus episodes called The Epilogue, which run between the longer interviews.

JoinedUp Twitter pic 2017

The ethos behind the show – and the inspiration for its title – was always to connect with and promote other writers and share their stories and advice with other writers to inspire them on their writing journeys. It’s now expanded to include promoting other creatives, like book bloggers, with a new feature called Book Blogger’s Corner. I’m still on the lookout for more ideas and topics to cover so if you have any tips, do let me know in the comments below or over at Joined Up Writing.

On a personal level, going solo has thrown the focus back on to my own writing and my show introductions now include a quick update on the progress with my debut crime novel, ‘Safe Hands’. I realised this is what I used to do on this very blog and have gotten out of the habit. So, in line with the weekly releases of the podcast, I’ll be giving you an update of where I am with the book in the hope that you’ll be able to identify with some aspects of my journey, but also to make me more accountable for my progress.

However, it isn’t just talking about my own writing that has inspired me, so much as the guests I’ve been lucky enough to chat to. Guests like Thriller writer, Simon Toyne talking about how he took a risk and gave up a lucrative day job to write his first novel. Or Angela Ackerman and how she set up the One Stop For Writer’s website to help other writer’s achieve their goals. Nathan O’Hagan shared his struggles of fitting his writing around a pressured job – something many of us can relate to – and Melanie McGrath told me how the tragic death of her father inspired her to write. There are many more recorded conversations, that will be released in the coming weeks and months – chats with Indie Publishing guru, Joanna Penn, crime writer William Shaw, literary author Claire Fuller and ex-cop turned Writer, Matt Johnson.

TCPJoannaPenn

It was my recent chat with Joanna Penn, in particular, that made me realise I have to start knuckling down, stop procrastinating and actually commit to getting the book out into the world. In fact, look out for Joanna’s episode in November, for an important announcement about my novel.

Speaking of the novel, my next post will bring you up to speed with where I am and what I’ve been up to, but for now I just wanted to lay out my manifesto and give you the ‘why’ behind my decision to start posting again on a weekly basis.

So what about you? Where are you with your writing projects? What’s inspiring you and getting you back to the page? Share your stories and comments below. I’d love to hear from you. In the words of my podcast . . . let’s get ‘Joined Up!’

 

 

Advertisements

Parker and why we love an anti-hero

I’ve always been a fan of reading Crime Fiction but, aside from a couple of humorous short stories, was never inspired to write in that genre. I loved Rankin’s Rebus, Connelly’s Bosch and, of course Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, but writing a police procedural or following the investigations of a lone detective just didn’t appeal to me.  Everything changed when, a couple of years ago, a tweet caught my eye – from comedy writer Graham Linehan – waxing lyrical about ‘The Parker Novels’.

 

thehunternovel
Richard Stark’s debut ‘Parker’ Novel

Who is Parker?

Well, for a start, he really isn’t ‘The Good Guy’ – in any sense of the word. Unlike Rebus et al, he’s on the wrong side of the law, a ruthless single-minded criminal always looking for the next big score. He is the creation of the ‘Crime Writer’s Crime Writer’, Donald E Westlake, writing under his pseudonym of Richard Stark. Parker is merciless, amoral and has a complete lack of empathy, but like most anti-heroes, he does have his own strict code – a set of rules as inflexible as he is. There’s a full run-down of those rules on the 50 Years of Parker website, but the gist is that he is the ultimate professional. The job is everything. Killing a man is the last resort – but only because it tends to bring unwanted interest from The Law. He is totally loyal to his colleagues right up until the point they try to double-cross him, at which point they become his mortal enemy. Revenge is a recurring theme throughout the novels and the stories are littered with the bodies of those who thought they could betray Parker and live to tell the tale.

Any redeeming features?

Even for an anti-hero, Parker’s redeeming qualities are pretty thin on the ground. Yet Stark created a protagonist that readers found compelling and addictive – there are 24 Parker novels and at least three film adaptations.

For one thing, Parker gets things done. He makes things happen and that alone is an attractive trait for a main character. He’s decisive and straightforward. If you’re looking for some existential angst or emotional hand-wringing, look elsewhere. That’s not to say that Stark doesn’t put his main character into some sticky situations. Parker spends most of his time against the ropes and railing against the huge faceless criminal organisation called The Syndicate. In the opening chapters of his first caper, ‘The Hunter’ he is betrayed and left for dead. In a cast of low-life, disloyal undesirables, Parker stands out because he lives his life to such a strict set of rules. He’s almost monastic in his dedication. And, most importantly, he is very, very good at what he does. In fact, he’s the best and that’s irrestible to a reader. Throw in the fact that Parker is always the smartest guy in the room, able to cut anyone down to size with his deadpan wit, and it’s easy to see why he’s such an enduring figure.

He doesn’t have the vulnerability that so many other anti-heroes often exhibit, but his greatest strength – his ‘code’ – is also his biggest flaw. That unwillingness to bend, to double-cross the other guy first – is often where his problems begin.

My Inspiration

Stark’s prose is terse, tight and full of wit and after only a few pages of The Hunter, I was hooked. This was the type of character I wanted to write. A remorseless, unapologetic bad guy that everyone loves. The man that can walk into a room and say or do anything he damn pleases. And so, my leading man, Mickey Blake, was born.

Like Parker, Mickey is a career criminal, but is very much in the British villain mould. Unlike Stark’s man, by the time we meet Mickey at the beginning of my novel, he has plenty of vulnerability lurking beneath a tough, sarcastic exterior. In any given situation, he will choose the most inappropriate comment, just to score a cheap point, get a laugh or gain the advantage over whichever ne’erdowell he’s faced with.

In Stark’s novels, Parker’s stories unfold in third person point of view, but I wanted my readers to really get under Mickey’s skin and into his head as he’s forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife and an estranged son that hates his guts. That meant choosing a first person perspective and it’s been fun ‘being’ Mickey during the months I’ve been working on my first draft.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t try to emulate Richard Stark’s style, but I do hope that in Mickey Blake, I can create a British anti-hero that can at least hold his own with Parker – The Man With The Getaway Face.

Who is your favourite anti-hero? Or maybe you prefer the good guys? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know your favourite Crime books too.

Stuck on your WIP? Skip to the end . . .

Stuck on your WIP? Things getting a little like wading through treacle? My advice? Skip to the end! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing after a long spell of procrastination and self-doubt.

Last time I gave you any kind of update, I was still in the honeymoon period of writing my second novel. 25,000 words in. The beginning of the relationship, when everything is exciting and new. Almost a year later, and I’m closing in on 90,000 words, and as we all know, with so much water under the bridge, you have to work a bit harder to keep the magic alive.

Loose-fitting pants . . .

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m a Plantser – I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t like to spend days and weeks planning every minute detail. These loose-fitting pants have served me well for the current novel (working title: Safe Hands) but, as usual, a couple of unexpected plot events took me by surprise and before I knew it, I’d created several loose ends and was tying myself up in knots. Although I had a vague idea of where I wanted to end up, with every new chapter, I felt I was drifting off course. My output slowed and eventually dried up completely. Anyone familiar with my posts will know that stopping to think for too long kills my momentum and gives rise to the dreaded Self-Doubt. So many times I forget to take my own advice – see Write or Die post from 2014.

Speaking of ‘Skip To The End’ – get to the point!

So, just at the moment I was ready to quit, I remembered my own advice and that of writing friends – WRITE THE ENDING FIRST. As my novel takes place over a week, building toward a heist that my protagonist and his cohorts have been planning, I decided to move directly to the day of the big job and just . . . WRITE. It was slow at first, but as I continued to raise the stakes, the words began to flow freely and without censure (a direct quote from writing friend Maria Smith) and I finally stopped worrying and clung to the fact that I’m writing a first draft. It’s meant to be terrible. The next stage will be editing and I can’t get to that stage unless I actually have something to edit.

The End is Nigh (honestly)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because I had similar issues with my first novel (still consigned to First Draft Hell). But this is different. It’s a weird feeling. I know I’m tantalisingly close to finishing the first draft, but for once I feel calm and positive about the novel I know this ugly first draft will become. What about you? Do you have to wrestle with self-doubt on a daily basis – ‘of course we do,’ you reply, ‘we’re WRITERS!’ So how do you deal with it? What are your tips for pushing on through to the bitter end? How do you tackle all those plot complications you’ve created along the way? Or maybe you are a planner and merely scoff at all this talk of losing the plot? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

Finishing my First Draft – The End of The Beginning

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”          – Winston Churchill, 1942.

Let’s skip forward a few decades. Wednesday May 29th, 2015. The day I finally typed ‘The End’ on the manuscript of the first draft of my first novel.

Picture the scene: On typing the final letter of that final word, I printed out the last page, placing it carefully on top of the perfect stack of paper beside me. The early morning light shone through my window, illuminating the hallowed manuscript. I looked at the items on the desk – a cigarette, a single match with which to light it and a bottle of the finest champagne . . . wait a minute, I’m confusing my life with Paul Sheldon from ‘Misery’.

Here’s what really went down . . .

You may remember from an earlier post, I have been wading through the quagmire that was the climax of my novel, Let Sleeping Gods Lie. Months and then years slipped by as I fought to satisfactorily tie up all the loose ends I had created for myself, without losing faith in the entire story. Let’s just skip to the after-dinner coffee and say I failed to do that. I had a stark choice – ditch the whole thing mid sentence and put the 80,000 plus words on ice, plough on indefinitely or fudge a solution that’s somewhere between the two.

I always did have a sweet tooth . . . The Fudge

So . . . after taking counsel from a couple of writing buddies, I did ‘end’ the novel. Satisfactorily? No. The story has more holes than a mole-infested lawn. However, I did give a brief summary of what needs to happen and to whom so that the story reaches the original denouement I had in mind. It was nothing more than a few paragraphs, written synopsis-style, but it means my story is more or less complete. More importantly it means I can put that all important first novel behind me and move on to Book Two (more on that in a future post).

In a recent interview we did for Joined Up Writing Podcast, I asked author Daniel Ribot for his best advice to aspiring novelists. His words of wisdom were simple: Come up with 3 ideas for a book . . . . and write the worst one! His reasoning was based on bitter experience. The first novel you actually complete has a good chance of being terrible – or mediocre at best. I now realise that the best way to learn is to fail.

So what went wrong?

In essence, my outlining process was thinner than Victoria Beckham. I had a basic and incomplete chapter plan married to a dysfunctional seven-point plot outline, which gave birth to a wayward, unmanageable novel-child. I’ll quit this metaphor while I’m ahead.

Anyway. Despite that, I still love the premise of my story, along with the protagonist and villain(s) of the piece. There are loads of scenes and even whole chapters that I’m still really proud of and I’ve been writing long enough to know that nothing is wasted.

The End of The Beginning

So, my beginning has come to an end and it’s time to move on to the next phase of my novel writing journey – Book Two. I hope you will join me and follow the inevitable ups and downs, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the blog.

What have been your experiences with that difficult First Draft? What have you learned? I hope this post has given faith to those of you who have struggled and I wish you the best with your novels – be it the first, the second, the third . . . oh you get the idea.

The Novel Dilemma – When should you quit your WIP?

wayne kelly with hard days write book
I have some hard decisions to make

I have a dilemma and I need your advice. I have a 79,000 word WIP and I think I’m on the verge of abandoning it for the foreseeable future. Here’s why:

In November 2012, as part of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I wrote almost 56,000 words of my novel, Let Sleeping Gods Lie. In the two and a half years since I took part in Nanowrimo, I have only added a measly 24,000 new words and the book sits unfinished on my hard drive. 24,000 painful words. Words that I dragged out in fits and starts, between bouts of confusion and self-doubt.

Good intentions

The first 60,000 words were a breeze. High on the adrenalin and story-buzz that comes with Nanowrimo and the ’50k-in-a-month’ target, I pumped out prose like a man possessed. With hindsight I now realise it wasn’t only the thrill of the competition that drove my productivity. You see, before I started my Nanowrimo challenge I managed to put together a very rough outline of the novel I planned to write. It was a little vague in places (particularly the climax of the story) but I did have a chapter plan. Unfortunately, that chapter plan only took me so far – to Chapter 43, to be precise – and take a guess how many words I had written at that point? That’s right – about 60,000.

Initially I barely gave it a thought. My train was about to leave the track and head off in to the wilderness. So what? I always thought of myself as a ‘pantser’ anyway. More fun that way. More creative. Unpredictable. EXCITING! So I ploughed on blindly, in to the undergrowth. With each new chapter I moved further away from where I knew I should be heading. I discovered new plot holes. No matter, I thought, I’ll just go around them. Just keep going – the mantra of the first draft. So I did, until the story got so convoluted, so full of new characters and sub-plots that I would have to stop for months at a time, just to ponder how I could get out of each narrative straightjacket I had written myself in to.

When the going gets tough . . .

I spent more time away from the book, dashing off short stories, pondering a new idea for a novel, and all the time my WIP was taunting – You’ll never finish! So, just shy of 80,000 words, I’ve ground to a halt. My faith in the story lies in tatters, my resolve scattered in the wind of self-doubt. It’s inaccurate to even call the novel my WIP – it hasn’t really been ‘a work in progress‘ for some time.

I have discovered the hard way that I’m not a hardened ‘pantser’. Sure, I can fly by the seat of my pants during a scene – inventing dialogue and being surprised by the actions of a character – but I need to have a plan and some kind of final destination to keep me on track.

Decisions, decisions . . .

Now, I feel I have a three choices. Firstly, I can press on, write through the pain and get to the end of the draft, even if that means the story makes no sense. Or I could go back to the now infamous Chapter 43, finish my chapter plan, outline the novel to a satisfying conclusion and put aside the last 25,000 words to begin writing again. Or . . . and here’s the crunch question . . . shall I just draw a line under the whole project, quit and move on to the new idea that I have been considering for several months?

Having read K.M Weiland’s excellent ‘Outlining Your Novel’, I feel better prepared to start something new, but before I can move on I think I need closure on Let Sleeping Gods Lie – ironically, I need to let it lie. For a long time I thought the only way I could get that closure was to finish the first draft. Now, I’m not so sure. Time is at a premium. Shall I just cut my losses and admit defeat? See those 80,000 words as a learning experience?

I am taking a few days to make my final decision, but would love to hear your thoughts and advice. Have you had a similar experience? Are you battling with a WIP? Is there ever an excuse to quit? Comment below or tweet me @Mrkelly2u.

Why you should be listening to podcasts – grabbing inspiration on the move. 

picture of a home podcast studio
My home podcast studio

Podcasts are a great way to multi-task – getting advice on writing from shows like Writing Excuses, listening to the musings of comedians like Bill Burr or getting hooked  on true crime stories like the brilliant Serial. I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years and as of last December, I’ve even begun to produce my own show, Joined Up Writing, with fellow writer, Leah Osbourne. 

Many people don’t think they have time to listen to podcasts, but the great thing about them is that you can have them on your phone or iPod and listen to them anytime – on the daily commute, in the car, during your lunch break. It’s a great way to multi-task and there are literally thousands of shows on every topic you can think of. Personal finance, news, creativity, music, science, comedy, DIY – you name it, it’s been done. 

You can listen to them online, but the most convenient method is to subscribe on iTunes and have your favourite shows automatically appear on your phone or iPod every time a new episode is released. And did I mention that they’re free? 

They can also be really interactive – most podcasters love to reach out to their audience, to hear their ideas and include their thoughts on their shows. You can even help to shape content and future shows – not something you can usually do with national TV and Radio networks. 

I listen to loads of great shows, but hear are just a few of my current favourites. 

WRITING PODCASTS

Writing Excuses – a great quick-hit of regular writing advice and tips – 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart! 

Narrative Breakdown – Often focuses on different forms of writing, particularly script writing for film and TV. 

Dead Robot Society – quite long episodes, but lots of interesting free-ranging conversation between three genre writers. 

COMEDY, ENTERTAINMENT OR INTERVIEW PODCASTS

Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast – very US-centric and lots of sports talk, but don’t be put off. Bill is hilarious and has lots to say about relationships, modern life and the environment. 

By The Way with Jeff Garlin – Funny and insightful interviews with writers, actors and musicians, recorded in front of a live audience with Curb Your Enthusiasm funny man, Jeff Garlin. 

Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin – more interviews from host Alec Baldwin. Look out for Billy Joel show and John McEnroe. 

Serial – feels like I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little by mentioning this one, but have a feeling most UK readers won’t have even heard of this. It was a massive hit in the US. Brilliantly produced serialised show that covered a true crime story and possible miscarriage of justice. Fascinating stuff and you’ll need to listen from episode 1. 

No one said it would be easy . . .

(Hitchcock Calendar - pic by Wayne Kelly) This year has been a scream - can you believe it's nearly over?
(Hitchcock Calendar – pic by Wayne Kelly)
This year has been a scream – can you believe it’s nearly over?

This will be a short post as I still intend to do a “Review of the Year/Looking Forward” type piece to kick off January, but yes, I feel I have neglected the Kelly’s Eye blog of late – my last real post being way back in July. July?! I blinked and now I’m staring down the barrel of 2014. Scary stuff.

I haven’t been resting on my rump though. My day job has been pretty full-on for the past few months, I’ve been trying to keep on track with my writing submission goals, working on a new project with Phoenix Writers and blogging over on the Phoenix Subs blog. Oh, and, you know, living my actual life. So, as a consequence, like a long suffering canine friend, my personal blog has been waiting patiently to be once more taken for a walk.

Whilst I have continued to submit my writing for competitions, I haven’t spent a lot of time working on new content. I did have a month of chairing the Phoenix Writers meetings, which was interesting and rewarding, but did mean that I focused less on producing new material to take for critique and more on ensuring the work of others was aired and commented on.

Having said that, I have written a new short story for an upcoming anthology our group is working on, and have edited and submitted another that I was working on a few months ago. I have also had some excellent advice and motivation from a fellow writer to help me get my unfinished novel back on track. My first draft is stuck around the 70,000 word mark and is so near to completion that I can almost see the words ‘The End’ shimmering in the distance. It is my number one priority to at least get the ball rolling again during the Christmas break.

I know I’m not alone in struggling to knuckle down to any focused writing at this time of the year. Everything is so manic, at work, at home and everywhere else that when I do get the odd half an hour to sit at the keyboard, my mind is zipping off in several directions at once or cloaked in the fog of exhaustion. For the past few weeks I was battling with this, beating myself up about not being as creative and productive as I would like, but then I realised I was fretting about a lot of things that are out of my hands.

I was getting stressed about ‘not doing enough’ when really I should have been pleased with the things I was achieving. I have managed to consistently submit work since joining the Phoenix Subs Group, I’ve written a new story and I’m regularly attending critique sessions. These are all positives and I just need to ensure that I make the most of the rest and relaxation I will have over the Christmas break.

So, what about you? Have you found the lack of daylight and the stresses of modern life have been affecting your creative endeavours or do you thrive on the extra pressure? If it’s the former, take my advice and go easy on yourself, stay positive and enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas and take a minute to comment below. I would love to hear how you are all doing.

15k in May – Writing Challenge. Week 3 Update

2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge
3 Weeks down for the 15k in May writing challenge

Only a very quick update of where I am in the 15k in May writing challenge – my attempt to add at least another 15,000 words to my WIP by the end of this month.

I’ve found this week to be very tough going and have had 3 ZERO days and also a measly 75 words on another day! Despite this I am still pretty much on target. With 22 days gone, my wordcount should be at 11,000 – and as of tonight I am at 11,126 so just about hanging on in there. I could complain and say it was mostly due to busy work and social life (some of which is true) but it would be more accurate to admit that I have been struggling with self-doubt as I approach the end-game of my story. My mantra of ‘just keep writing’ has taken me this far, but it has also created gaping plot holes and a number of problems that need to be resolved before I can reach a satisfying conclusion. This has meant that I have had a lot of ‘thinking’ time and not as much ‘writing’ time.

However, as of this evening, I think I may have cracked it (or at least given myself a fighting chance) by writing something that at the very least surprised me – so I hope it does the same for my readers!

Here are my wordcount figures for the past 8 days:

May 16th – 714

May 17th – ZERO

May 18th – ZERO

May 19th – 75 (!)

May 20th – 268

May 21st – 328

May 22nd – 851

TOTAL FOR 8 DAYS – 2236 words.

TOTAL FOR CHALLENGE – 11,126

WIP TOTAL – 73,024

How are you finding your writing at the moment? Perhaps you have given yourself some other challenges to work through – how are they going? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback so please follow the blog, follow me on Twitter or comment below.

15k in May – Update for Week 2

2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge
2 Weeks gone in the 15k in May writing challenge

I am currently in the midst of the 15k in May Writing Challenge.

Despite posting another zero day on Day 9 and a miniscule 177 words on Day 11, I am currently ahead of schedule and am happy to be writing most days. Even though my 15k is only words written on my novel, I am still writing blog posts and flash fiction, including my 2 latest posts:

The Other Woman – 150 Word Flash

Don of The Dead Ep3 – Don Goes Shopping

Speaking of Flash Fiction – this week’s top tip is to use writing prompts, photographs or anything else and simply WRITE. ANYTHING. I was rapidly losing momentum with a particular chapter and yet after spending a short break working on some flash fiction I had recharged my creative batteries and had my biggest word count of the week. If you have read my blog before, you will know this is something I am passionate about and you can read more tips on how to ‘beat the block’ here.

Other inspirations this week have come from the always entertaining Chuck Wendig and his excellent book ‘500 Ways To Be A Better Writer’. It’s jam packed full with useful, motivational and occasionally very sweary writing tips. His blog is also good to dip in to for his thoughts on writing, publishing and lots more. Purely coincidentally I am also reading one of his fiction novels, the urban fantasy, ‘Blackbird’ which is proving to be a great little page-turner and keeping my creative fires stoked.

Another tip is to join the challenge or just surround yourself with like minded people who want to help you achieve your goals. There is definitely strength in numbers and our little group has now grown to include:

Maria Smith
Dee Kirkby
Ileandra Young
Ruth Livingstone
Lynne Collins
Rinelle Grey
Alison Wells
Lisa Redmond

Make sure you swing by their blogs to see what they have been up to during the challenge.

So . . . 2 weeks of the 15k in May Challenge down and here are my word count stats for this week:

Day 8 – 444
Day 9 – ZERO
Day 10 – 724
Day 11 – 177
Day 12 – 905
Day 13 – 685
Day 14 – 500 (exactly – weird!)

TOTAL FOR WEEK 2:  3435 words

Total for Challenge: 8890 words

First Draft Total Word Count: 70,808

We may be half way through the challenge but it’s never too late to join in, so follow #15kinmay on Twitter, comment below or follow the blog.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑