Saturday, 28 May 2011

New Courses, New Interview, Renewing the Writing Fun

In the Sutro Room at Trinity College
Last week my fictionfire class and I had a great time, playing around with point of view and choosing the right distance, the right perspective, from which to tell a story. We looked at some powerful examples of voice (the voice of the child in Emma Donoghue's Room was considered to be particularly effective, for instance) and we embarked on some fun writing exercises which, as is often the case, threw up intriguing characters and situations and what ifs with potential. I think my students are often taken by surprise by just how exciting their writing can be when they're - ahem! - forced into producing it, on the spot like that!

Both of my spring courses have been an absolute joy: I hope they were helpful to those attending. I certainly know that one by-product for me was a revving up of my own creativity - the past few months have not been conducive to writing in the least! Sometimes you lose a sense of what is at the core of it all: an imagination that will not shut up and lie down, a brain that mints characters, a desire to hold people enthralled while you spin them a yarn. That's the essence of it, under the pontificating and the theorising, the writing manuals and the writing blogs. You need to recapture the love, if you've lost it. The paradox is that you need to be both consciously critical and unconsciously creative - you need to be willing to learn your jobbing skills as a writer but you must also be allowed to tap into the childlike freedom and instinctiveness you once had.
The Sutro Room is on the first floor of the Jackson Building

If you're writing, then, I wish you joy and a constructively playful summer ahead.

What lies ahead for fictionfire? Well, my head is buzzing with new plans for that as well as for my own writing. In the autumn I will be starting up a new kind of course, as a complement to the Trinity College day courses. My new workshops will be called Fictionfire Focus: they'll run more frequently and will offer a wide range of topics and a new kind of flexibility. I hope that makes you hungry to hear more! All in good time ...

Beautiful carved panel, part of the Sutro Room's fireplace
Meanwhile, do keep in mind that I offer editorial, critiquing and mentoring services at fictionfire: go to the website to find out more.

Just time now to announce that next week I'll be posting another guest interview: this time with Bobbie Darbyshire, who has published two novels, Truth Games and Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones. She'll be telling us the fascinating story of how she chose to take an active role in hand-selling her books in bookshops. She's out there tirelessly on the circuit, meeting her potential customers - and what's more, racking up the sales!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

fictionfire Courses and a glorious location

Trinity's Front Quad from the Sutro Room
Wouldn't you just know it, there was rain last Saturday morning as my students arrived at Trinity College for my day course on Essential Story Construction? However, they were all of a very sunny nature and incredibly enthusiastic and creative. We had lots of discussion, writing exercises and laughter. We started with a discussion of 'Lewis' because one of the returning students confessed to having strayed across Kevin Whateley's eye-line last October when she was attending a fictionfire course at the same time as filming was going on (she was glared at). Indeed, that episode was only aired a couple of weeks ago, so it was great fun spotting the Trinity locations!

No film crews this time. The Sutro Room, though, was worthy of a film location - and everybody found it beautiful and inspirational. We had a lot of ground to cover - plot is always a very popular topic and a daunting one for writers who are just starting out - or, indeed, those who've made progress and then got bogged down.

My next course will be on Creating Narrative Perspective and Voice and I'm looking forward to seeing several people from last week's course again. If you want to join us, you have until midday Friday 20th to book- the course runs on Saturday 21st. We'll do a sun-dance beforehand, shall we?

Details of the course and how to book are on my website

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Kindle Publishing: Part 2 of Interview with 'Killing Cupid' authors Mark Edwards and Louise Voss

Yesterday I posted the first part of an interview with Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, whose unusual dual-narrative thriller, Killing Cupid, is available on Amazon Kindle for the stunningly good-value price of 70p. In Part 1, they described how they wrote the book together and opted to publish it on Kindle. We now discuss how things unfolded from there.

Lorna: How did you set about generating interest in the book?

Mark: It's hard work. Very hard work. My poor girlfriend feels neglected as I spend so much time trying to drum up interest in the book and I must admit it's become something of an obsession, especially checking sales figures and our rank on Amazon. I even drive myself crazy, especially on slow days. There is no secret recipe for success. You need to have a great cover, title and blurb, and then you have to let as many people as possible know about the book. We started with our own friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, and I am sure all of our sales in the first few weeks came from them. I have spent a lot of time networking with other writers on and various Facebook groups. I interview writers for my blog, which specialises in featuring the best indie writers. We have both done interviews and guest posts for other bloggers. (By the way, I approached Mark and Louise for this interview, not the other way about! L.) We have submitted review copies to various review sites. And we generally hustle wherever and whenever we can - while trying not piss everyone off by just trying to sell sell sell. You can buy exposure on sites like Kindle Nation Daily and Pixel of Ink but I have no idea how effective this is. I have also tried Google ads but it's too expensive. I am convinced the only way to really take off is for your book to start appearing in the 'Customers who bought this also ...' slots, which we've just started to do. But it's getting harder and harder to make any kind of impact. When I published Killing Cupid I went straight onto Kindleboards and posted an announcement. Within minutes, 4 or 5 other books had appeared above it and my post had vanished off the page. As Stephen Leather says, 'the slush pile has gone online' and you are competing with just as many writers as you are when you submit to agents or publishers. The world is awash with wannabe writers and getting yourself heard is a hell of a struggle.

Lorna: How well is the book doing now?

Mark: We have sold a grand total of 800 copies now (4th May). Since April 30 we are doing an average of 40 a day. On Saturday we had the thrilling experience of hitting No 1 on Amazon's movers and shakers chart, meaning it was the fastest rising book on that day. We keep floating around the bottom end of the overall top 200 on Kindle. I am desperate to hit the top 100! 

(Lorna's note: This is a brilliant result and is a just reward for their astute presentation and the quality of the book they've written.) 

Lorna: Do you intend to bring out a print version of Killing Cupid?

Louise: That's a good question ... I think that if Killing Cupid ended up being really successful, and a conventional publisher was offering to publish it, we certainly wouldn't say no (as long as we got to keep the e-publishing rights to ourselves, of course!) But we're not desperate to see it in print at this stage, I mean, we haven't got any plans to go down a Print-on-Demand route or anything.

Lorna's comment: Personally, I feel they should try POD - I think it helps if a book is available in different formats, and there is an increasing sense that readers are quite prepared to buy both an e-version and a printed version of books they enjoy. See, for instance, Joanna Penn, who has also marketed her e-book Pentecost with great commercial savvy - offering a printed version as well. (As for conventional publishers - would they let Mark and Louise do a deal with them which didn't also include e-publishing rights?)

Lorna: Would you e-publish again? Are you hoping that, like Amanda Hocking, your independent route will bring you a conventional contract - if one were offered to you, would you accept it?

Mark: Yes, we are definitely going to e-publish Catch Your Death, our next novel. I would like to be conventionally published, because there are a lot of people who only read print books. But then again, self-publishing puts all the control in our hands and we can get stuff out there much much quicker.

Louise: I've just had the rights to my four other novels revert to me, and fully intend to e-publish these too. Prior to this, the publishers asked if they could e-publish on my behalf and I said no. Knowing that they wouldn't do any promotion for them made me think, well, I'd have to self-promote anyway, so I'd rather not have to give away most of the proceeds ... It would be great to have them readily available at a low price, and hopefully gain a whole new audience.

Lorna: Exciting news that Killing Cupid may make it to the screen! Tell us more about this!

Louise: That whole thing has been quite strange - and fortuitous. What happened was that, a few years ago, a BBC producer read one of my other books and asked for a meeting, during which she said that although she really liked the book, she didn't quite see herself developing it for TV and did I have anything else she could read? At that stage we'd recently finished Killing Cupid, so I gave her the manuscript and to our delight, she loved it, and optioned it for a two-part drama (which was another reason why we thought we might find a publisher for it ...)! Then it went into development hell, and, according to the producer, popularity for two-part dramas nosedived practically overnight. It all fizzled out after a couple of years, which was disappointing, but at  least we'd got a bit of cash for the option, and some interest in the book. Fast-forward a few years to this February, in fact, the same day that we put Killing Cupid out on Amazon Kindle, and I received an email out of the blue from the same producer, who was about to leave the BBC and set up her own film company, having won a BAFTA last year. She said she had always seen Killing Cupid more as a feature film and was now in a position to develop it. Plus, last year my partner (a TV director) and I wrote our own treatment for it which is currently out with a couple of other producers, so we are waiting to hear back from them. We'll let you know what happens! Exciting times!

Lorna: Can you tell us anything about your next book? When will it be available?

Mark: Our second book is called Catch Your Death and is a more straightforward thriller than Killing Cupid, which is more a comedy thriller. Catch Your Death came about back in 2006 after Louise started thinking about writing a novel set at the Common Cold Unit, which was a research centre near her hometown of Salisbury. For years, they invited volunteers to stay and be given a cold so the scientists there could carry out research in their quest to find a cure. I had, at that point, just read The Da Vinci Code (marvelling at the awful prose but also the compelling plot) and was also aware of the coming bird flu scare. I wanted to write a fast-paced conspiracy thriller and thought Louise had come across an ideal setting. We decided to have another go at writing together, and created a chase novel involving deadly viruses, mad scientists and robotic killers. Great fun. I had to do an awful lot of research into virology and became slightly more paranoid than previously. Catch Your Death will be released for Kindle in the first half of May.

Louise: It will be interesting to see how this one goes down. As Mark says, we made an effort to write a 'straight' thriller, so it's less quirky than Killing Cupid but faster-paced and more high concept. Hopefully we'll give Dan Brown a run for his money!

Thanks so much to Mark and Louise for these insights - I wish them continued and increasing success with Killing Cupid and look forward to reading Catch Your Death when it comes out! For further discussion of whether to opt for self-publication, please take a look at my second post on the Oxford Literary Festival - my report on the Kingston Conference on Self-Publishing - and Joanna Penn's guest post on my blog - As I've said before - self-publishing offers you speed and control over what you choose to write and how you publish it. But you do need to be very aware that it demands enormous amounts of energy and commitment and that you will be up against it when it comes to making your voice heard. Without the filtering processes of having to go through agents and editors, a great deal of dross is being let loose on the world. If you choose to go down the self-publishing path, then do it clear-sightedly, and with a truly professional approach to your work. Plan your campaign, create your author platform, spend money on professional services like cover design, formatting, editing. And, as with conventional publishing, don't ever blithely assume you'll make a fortune!

Killing Cupid is available at and on Smashwords -  . Mark's excellent blog is at 

Just time to remind you of my upcoming fictionfire courses: Essential Story Construction this Saturday (booking closes tomorrow Friday 6th) and Creating Narrative Perspective and Voice on 21st May (booking closes midday Friday 20th) - I'd love it if you could join us in the gorgeous setting of Trinity College! Full details are on my fictionfire website

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Kindle Publishing: Interview with Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, authors of 'Killing Cupid'

Last month I really enjoyed reading Killing Cupid: it's a stalker novel with a twist and an unexpected lightness of touch - and it only costs 70p to download to your Kindle!

The story manages to be both comic and unsettling, frothy on top but dark underneath - and when you read it you're never quite sure how dark it may become. Apart from its twists and turns, its strengths are those of wit, lively dialogue and a well-handled alternating viewpoint. The story is told in the voices of the two central characters, Alex and Siobhan. To convey both male and female perspectives convincingly is a challenge - so perhaps it's appropriate that this is a dual-author novel. I met Louise some years ago and was intrigued to discuss with her how she and Mark came to write the book, so here follows a joint interview with them, which I'm posting in two parts. In Part One, they discuss the process of writing together and how they came to publish on Kindle:

Lorna: I very much enjoyed reading Killing Cupid and am fascinated first of all by how you came to write as a team. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in this way? Were there any moments when you absolutely hated one another?

Mark: We cooked up the ideal of writing together on a boozy night at the Groucho (those were the days!) although because of the booze neither of us can remember who first came up with the idea of a stalker novel first. At that point I had just been unceremoniously dumped by my agent after a string of near-misses and Louise was halfway through her contract with Transworld. Writing together seemed like it would be a fun exercise and respite from the slog of writing solo novels. We were right: it was a dream to write. We did almost all of it by email, made necessary as I moved to Tokyo about two months in. I would write a chapter as the voice of Alex, the male protagonist, then email it to Louise along with some ideas about what happened next. She would edit it, suggest changes and then send it back along with the next chapter, written as Siobhan, the novel's heroine. It was a genuinely easy process and we barely even spoke on the phone during the process. It was all done by email. Pehaps it's the first co-written pan-global thriller. I think Stephen King and Peter Straub did something similar years earlier, actually, in Maine and England. They had to do it by Airmail which is almost beyond comprehension these days. There were never any points at which we fell out. Louise is probably the only person I can take criticism about my writing from without feeling offended or wanting to argue. I trust her judgement. Maybe she hated me though ...

Louise: All true - it was the most fun I've ever had writing a novel - so much easier than going it alone. And no, I certainly never even felt irritated with Mark, let alone hating him! Perhaps the fact that we've always led such separate lives helped - we never had the familiarity that might have led to contempt (or at least preciousness about our own efforts!). I do remember that he came up with the title.

(Lorna's note: other teams that spring to my mind are the husband and wife co-writers Nicci Gerrard and Sean French writing as Nicci French, and the mother daughter team who write as P.J. Tracy - who, if memory serves, live in separate states in the USA and email chapters to one another. I recommend both (all four?!))

Lorna: When you completed the novel, did you intend trying to publish it in the conventional way or did you always intend for it to be an e-book?

Louise: Yes we did want it to be published, as we wrote the first version way before e-publishing was even dreamed of. E-publishing has given it, and us, a whole new lease of writing life.

Lorna: How many agents/publishers did you approach? How long did this take? Were there any near-acceptances?

Louise: I have to say that I thought we would find a publisher for it - for some reason I felt more confident about it than I did about any of my own novels, even though at the time I had a publishing deal. But my then-agent and my editor were both quite lukewarm about it when they read it. Perhaps this was because it was in its first incarnation and therefore less polished than it is now. They both said it was partly a genre issue - the publishers didn't want to launch me in another direction while they were trying to sell me as a women's fiction author - and besides Killing Cupid didn't fit into another genre anyway, as it was neither pure thriller nor pure comedy. I actually can't remember if it got sent out to any other publishers. Because I had an agent, I didn't feel that we could go behind her back and send it out ourselves, which must have been very frustrating for Mark. [Lorna's note - how often have we read about the problem writers have when it comes to writing in more than one genre? I remember Joanne Harris talking eloquently about this some years ago at the Oxford Literary Festival. Writer 'Fred Bloggs' ends up writing as 'Fiona Durham' -  because publishers feel we readers need to be guided by a separation of writerly avatars when writers branch out into different genres - even though we know it's the same person!)

Lorna: Once you'd decided to publish to Kindle, how easy did you find the process? Did you have the advantage of technical expertise yourself? Have you any advice to give us as a result of your experience? Are there any pitfalls you can warn us about?

Mark: The process seems a little daunting at first but is actually more straightforward than you would expect. The most important thing is to format the book correctly so it looks good on Kindle. For example, it has to be single spaced, you need to remove fancy formatting, make sure it's saved as plain text. But then you just save it as a Word doc and upload it. Easy! You also, of course, need to create a book cover which has to be the right size. And write your blurb. Finally, you will be asked to choose your categories or sub-categories - up to 2. These are important. You don't want sub-categories that no-one ever browses unless you are aiming at a very particular niche. Then again it's very easy to rank in these obscure categories. One thing to note is that it takes 48 hours for the book to be published. It takes 24 hours for them to review it and another 24 for it to be 'published'. After that, you can make amendments at any time but it always takes 48 hours for them to appear. So if you make a typo in the blurb it will sit there for 2 days so be careful. (Er, we did this.)

Part Two of this interview will appear tomorrow - Mark and Louise will be talking about how they promoted Killing Cupid and telling us of their exciting plans for the future.

Killing Cupid is available at and and on Smashwords -  . Mark's excellent blog is at 

Just time, then, to remind you of my upcoming fictionfire courses: Essential Story Construction this Saturday (booking closes midday Friday 6th) and Creating Narrative Perspective and Voice on 21st May (booking closes midday Friday 20th) - I'd love it if you could join us in the gorgeous setting of Trinity College! Full details are on my fictionfire website