Tag Archives: mrkelly2u

8 Great Podcasts for 2017

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Podcasts – what are they?

Podcasts are episodic, usually themed, audio content that you can listen to on the web or subscribe to using iTunes or on your smartphone. They’re almost always free and come in a variety of styles from Audio Drama, How-To Shows and Lifestyle, to Science, Comedy, Music, Current Affairs and True Crime.

Anyone who knows me, reads the blog or follows me on Twitter will probably have noticed my passion for podcasts. I even co-host one with Leah Osbourne – The Joined-Up Writing Podcast, where we interview succesful authors, editors, agents, screenwriters and anyone connected with reading or writing good books.

The range of choice and the quality of this relatively new medium (the birth of the iPod was when things really got going) continues to grow. I seem to find another great new show almost on a weekly basis, but here are my latest recommendations.

8 Great Podcasts . . .

Writing Shows

The Worried Writer – author, Sarah Painter is the self-confessed ‘Worried Writer’ who hosts this monthly show which usually includes interviews with other writers who give the background behind their work and process and offer advice on dealing with the dreaded Self-Doubt.

The Creative Penn – if you are a budding indie writer, chances are you are already familiar with independent publishing poster girl, Joanna Penn and if you aren’t, you should be. Joanna podcasts on a weekly basis and her archive and blog posts offer a wealth of advice and inspiration for independent authors everywhere.

Audio Drama

LifeAfter – a very new 10 part tech thriller that follows Ross, a low level FBI employee who is trying to deal with the death of his wife using a social media platform as a form of digital resurrection. Of course, all is not as it seems. It’s full of twists and turns and I was lucky enough to interview the show’s writer, Mac Rogers for a recent episode of The Joined-Up Writing podcast.

Homecoming – a star-studded cast includes David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac and everything about this psychological thriller oozes class. The script, acting and excellent sound design help to tell a story about an experimental therapy treatment for traumatised soldiers. This really does show what can be done with the medium and I can’t wait for Season Two.

crimetown
My latest binge – Crimetown

True Crime

Crimetown – my current addiction and a superb example of how podcasts can handle true crime stories. Told through interviews with ex-criminals, government officials, police officers and an expertly crafted script, Crimetown is a serialised story of one of the biggest organised crime families in America – in the small city of Providence. Make sure you start at episode one and get ready to binge.

Stranglers – another gripping series that tells that fascinating (but often grizzly) story behind one of America’s most infamous serial killers, The Boston Strangler. Again, start at episode one to follow the story from the beginning and perhaps don’t listen to this one before bedtime, unless you like nightmares.

Science

Science Vs – a fascinating Pop Science show, that tackles topics like Hypnosis, Fracking and even The G-Spot! It never dumbs down, but keeps a light touch in its mission to ‘sift through the facts, so you don’t have to’.

Cinema

You Must Remember This – detailed research and a haunting soundtrack make this an interesting trip down memory lane, focusing specifically on the first century of Hollywood. Each episode tells a different story from Tinseltown’s sometimes glamourous, often mysterious and always entertaining past. Covering everything from the McCarthy Witch Hunts to Buster Keaton and Bruce Lee, this podcast is a must for film fans.

That’s it. For now . . .

I could go on and on and on and you can always check out my post from 2015 for a few more ideas. I’m always on the look out for new recommendations, so drop me a line in the comments to let me know what your latest listening pleasures are. Happy listening!

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New Year Goals – don’t say the ‘r’ word!

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New Year’s Day is for nursing hangovers and banishing the regrets of last year, which is why I’m writing this on January 2nd. Yes, it’s that time again. Time to lay out my reso – NO! DON’T SAY IT! Let’s use goals, targets, milestones – anything but the ‘r’ word. Call me superstitious but any time I make a new one of those, it’s nothing more than a distant memory by Valentine’s day.

As this is mainly a blog about Writing, I’ll save all my empty promises of more exercise and less food for my loved ones. Bearing in mind I have to fit my writing around a full time job, here’s a run down of what I want to achieve this year.

THE NOVEL

I will finish a major rewrite (2nd draft) of my WIP by next Christmas. This means having it in good enough shape to either go to a professional editor or be ready for beta readers. This will be no mean feat. I’m currently up to 94k words and I’m pretty sure it will be well above 100k by time I’ve gone back and filled in gaps to complete my first draft. I do this in full knowledge that I will probably lose around 20k after the first major edit. It’s not the most efficient way to write a novel but it seems to be the only way I know how!

SUBMISSIONS

I want to sub AT LEAST one thing every month – to average at least 12 subs over the year. These will include short story submissions for competitions and publications.

NEW WRITING

I want to write 4 brand new short stories by next Christmas. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – infact, it sounds pathetic! – but the novel really has to take priority this year. In 2016, focusing on the novel was great, but it was at the cost of my new work and I didn’t write any new short stories.

WRITING PODCAST

With the help of my co-host, Leah Osbourne, I’ll be producing at least one new full-length show of The Joined-Up Writing Podcast. We feature interviews with guest authors, screenwriters, editors and agents. We began the show back in 2014 and it’s going from strength to strength, with 50 full length episodes and more than 30 episodes of our Two Minute Tips (TMT) series. We’re always looking for new guests and ideas for topics to cover so feel free to get in touch. The full archive is available here and you can subscribe on Stitcher and iTunes.

SCREENWRITING WORKSHOP

In addition to all that, I need to write and deliver my first writing workshop to the members of my critique group – a bunch of people I have huge admiration and respect for. No pressure! The working title for the workshop is ‘Screenwriting Tips For Non-Screenwriters’ and I’ll be delivering it in March.

So, I think that’s enough to be going on with – at least a good baseline. Anything else will be a bonus. Who knows what 2017 will have in store for us, but I’m sure with a bit of positive thinking and alot of hard work, we can make it a happy and productive one.

What are your plans for the year? Are you sharing them with the world? Any hints and tips you want to share? Feel free to share links to your own goals and blog posts in the comments below and I wish you all good luck for 2017.

 

 

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’.

 

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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.

Writing a Novel – Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? I’m a PLANTSER!

Scrivener's Cork Board Feature can help you to see the shape of your novel
Scrivener’s Cork Board Feature can help you to see the shape of your novel

Are you a ‘Pantser’ or a ‘Plotter’?

It’s a question we writers seem to be obsessed with. It turns up on countless websites, forums and in many of our author interviews over at The Joined Up Writing Podcast. In case you somehow missed it, a ‘Pantser’ is someone who writes without any real plan – by the seat of their pants – and a ‘Plotter’, well, guess what? They like to plot everything in detail and have a clear road map of where they’re going.

So, what am I?

My innate impatience and lack of organisation probably means I’m naturally inclined to wing it – just start writing and hope for the best – but over the years I have come to realise I do need some kind of idea of where I’m going.

I’ve talked in previous posts about my experience with Nanowrimo. The first sixty thousand words flowed consistently because I had spent the last week of October writing a chapter plan. This was really only a skeleton outline that consisted of nothing more than one or two sentences of what I wanted to happen in each chapter. Once I got going, I got complacent. This novel-writing lark is easy, I thought, as I hurtled towards the end of my chapter plan. A week later I ran out of track, at which point the writing became a lot more tricky.

Hmm. Ok. Never one to miss out on a learning opportunity, I bought a couple of books on outlining and decided that my next novel would be PROPERLY OUTLINED. Real, detailed, three act-type stuff. Character notes, beat sheets, back stories, the lot. I spent months plotting a novel about ‘The secret KGB past of misanthropic Russian psychic, Tsurly Guiger, catches up with him when plucky aspiring journalist, Alyson Peabody discovers him hiding in Leicester.’ (Yes, I just used the logline technique mentioned in my last post!).

It’s a novel I still intend to write but, for me, spending that long trying to plot the story without writing more than the first two chapters almost killed my enthusiasm for the story. The characters needed at least a few chapters to come to life on the page, to find their feet, so that I could run with their story.

So . . . pure ‘pantsing’ doesn’t work for me and I can’t spend weeks and months plotting. What’s a man to do? Like all writing advice . . . you have to find what works for you. My current crime novel is a product of my new approach – ‘Plantsing’.

‘Plantsing’ you say?

Sounds like you just took ‘Pantsing’ and ‘Plot’ and awkwardly glued them together. Yes, that’s right – deal with it. Anyway, here’s how it’s been working for me.

You may recall this project originally started life as a short story. Then a novella, until finally it grew legs and I knew there was a book in it. The first few chapters flowed easily as my protagonist, Mickey, drove the plot with his singular personality and wit. However, once I knew the story was opening out in to something much longer, I realised I had to make sure that every time I sat down to work (my morning ritual, of which I’ll write about in another post) I had a good idea of what to write. My solution was to use the power of Scrivener and create a few chapters in my binder. Then write at least a couple of sentences on their index cards (like the ones you can see below). I have tried to make sure that I always have at least four chapters ‘planned’ ahead in this way. EDIT: As pointed out by Misa Buckley on Twitter – you may want to work like this and have no wish to use Scrivener. It’s perfectly possible to do the same thing using your preferred software and usual outlining methods. It’s just that, I feel, Scrivener makes it much easier to do.

You can break your work down in to scenes, chapters or any other chunks you fancy
You can break your work down in to scenes, chapters or any other chunks you fancy

What if I don’t know what the next chapter is?

No problem. Because Scrivener lets you create separate documents and drag them wherever you want, you have complete flexibility. Only know the final chapter or scene? Fine – create a document, outline it with a few sentences and write it whenever you like. Know that your main character is going to sleep with a barmaid in a couple of chapters time, but not sure how he gets there? No worries – skip ahead and write that scene. Outline the bits you know – just make sure you always have something to come back to and that you have enough direction to keep the structure of your story intact.

It’s ‘Plantsing’ and it works for me. What works for you? How do you get through that first draft without writing yourself down a blind alley or boring yourself to death? Share your thoughts below, subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter – I would love to chat.

Why you should write a logline for your novel

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder - a screen writing book that you can apply to your novel
Save The Cat by Blake Snyder – a screenwriting book you can apply to your novel

Following on from my previous post where I came out (of the novel-writing closet), I thought I would tell you a little more about the novel and share a tip I picked up from reading Save The Cat – a brilliant book about Screenwriting. It’s author, Blake Snyder, believes the one killer question you need to answer before you even begin to write is . . .

WHAT IS IT?

Think about it. You mention to your friend that you’re writing a book. Their first question?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Cue a couple of minutes of you umming and erring, scrabbling around for way to explain this great story waiting to burst out of your head. After the first thirty seconds your friend – no matter how polite – will start to get that faraway look in their eye. The look that says ‘I wonder what I can have for tea tonight?’ or ‘Did I put the bins out?’. You fail to capture, let alone hold their attention, because you haven’t really stopped to answer that single question:

WHAT IS IT?

The best way to do that? Come up with a logline. That’s a screenwriting term, but it’s just another way of saying ‘elevator pitch’ – a concise one or two lines that capture the essence of your story. It needs to give a sense of who, what and where this story is. Is it obvious in what genre you’re writing? Snyder also thinks it should have at least a whiff or irony about it and perhaps even some kind of time frame.

Drafting loglines in Scrivener
Drafting loglines in Scrivener

Hmm. It’s harder than it sounds. I sat down (after already having written more than twenty thousand words of my story) and began to see if I could boil it down to two sentences. My first effort was something like this:

‘Mickey Blake, an aging safe cracker and mastermind behind one of the crimes of the century, returns to the UK after 18 years on the run. Forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife, Mickey must outwit local gangsters and an undercover copper to stay alive long enough to pull off one last job.’

It’s not terrible. It includes some important elements of the story and it gives a vague description of my protagonist, but it feels too long. I tried two or three more iterations – mainly changing word order and including the additional detail of an estranged son – but it still didn’t sing, didn’t say where the story was set and didn’t really reflect Mickey’s personality. So, after a lot of refining, here’s what I’ve settled on. For now . . .

‘For the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts, acid-tongued safe cracker, Mickey Blake is forced out of retirement to rob a rundown casino in Skegness. He’s got one week to do it and all that stands in his way are a few old scores, two local gangsters and an undercover cop.’

Better? I think so. It has a similar word count to my first attempt, but has more information, gives a sense of who Mickey is and reveals my setting . . . Skegness! Yes, Skegness. For those unfamiliar with it, Skeggy (as it’s known locally) is a seaside town on the East coast of England and these days is probably most famous for being home to a large Butlins holiday resort. I think revealing that location and the part about ‘a son that hates his guts’ provides the ironic whiff I was looking for. I’ve also squeezed in the ‘one week’ time frame and created a mental image of some of the challenges he’s going to face.

I actually think it would work as a ‘one-liner’ – the first sentence does most of the work. Having this ‘one-liner’ has already helped me to focus and means I will at least have a chance at articulating my story the next time someone asks me what I’m spending all my spare time on.

I’m going to be posting regular updates along my novel-writing journey, so let me know which parts of the process you are most interested in and subscribe to the blog to keep up to date. I would love to hear your opinions on my logline and whether you’re intrigued to find out more about the story. So why not give it a try – write a logline for your novel or next short story – and let me know how you get on in the comments below. Alternatively, tweet me.

Giving myself a stern talking to – Write Up to Date #5

Get a grip!
Get a grip!

It’s time to give myself a stern talking to.

It’s been a few weeks since my last update and that isn’t good enough. I detailed the reasons for my malaise in that post, and won’t repeat them again. In any case, it doesn’t matter. For ‘reasons’ read ‘excuses’. The time for procrastination has passed.

In terms of actual fiction writing – putting pen to paper, or type to screen – my output has been non-existent. Poor show. This will be rectified this week.

I did write another blog post, which means I at least hit one of my targets. I have also submitted TWO stories to the Writing Magazine Crime competition. They both required heavy edits to fit the word count, but I’m confident that they are both all the better for it.

On a positive note, our regular weekly podcast Joined Up Writing, is going from strength to strength, with a growing listenership and loads of exciting developments coming up. If you haven’t already, please head over to have a listen and subscribe.

So, this week I am going to ease back in to some Wordsmithery with a little free writing – just to get the juices flowing again and to limber up for some more strenuous activity. No hard word count goal this week – the aim is to JUST WRITE SOMETHING! If I don’t pull myself out of this creative lethargy in double-quick time, I’m in danger of losing all of my momentum.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to my literary sparring partner, Maria Smith for giving me weekly jabs (via email) to make sure I’m not laid out for the count. She too is feeling the rigours of everyday life jostling for your writing time and always makes time to check-in on her writing friends.

I’m lucky to have a good network of writers and creatives around me to keep pushing me to run that extra mile. I’ve been down, but I’m not out. (What a delightful collection of mixed metaphors this post has been!)

How have you all been faring in my absence? How do you deal with creative dips in your life?