How long was that novel?

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Which novel you ask? That bestseller? My novel? Well, in some ways that’s a general question, but today it’s personal, and my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group day – and my weekly post combined.

As November approached, I was wondering if reaching the NaNoWriMo winning tape was possible, and how I would managed to keep blogging. But now, 70,186 words later and a ‘Winner’, my worry/insecurity is different.

I haven’t finished this re-write of the first draft [Draft 1 Mark 2] of “Fates Maelstrom”, and, looking at where I am in relation to Draft 1 Mark I, there are another 32,000 words to write. Maybe more if I play out my new crazed idea and kill another character.

A crime novel with over 100,000 words, in a highly competitive market, felt wrong. Surely, Agatha Christie had been able to tackle far cleverer mysteries in less words.

It didn’t take me long to find truth in that fear. Agatha Christie’s novels range from 54,000 to 70,000. And looking at two more recent authors that I admire, Ellis Peters and Dick Francis, their books are shorter than some of the current writers that I read, like Linwood Barclay.

But then I looked at Famous Novels and saw the huge range, well-illustrated in word count order, from small gems to mammoth tomes, in this article, and in alphabetical order here.

However, my novel has to fit in with the norm, and current publishing requirements – even if I self-publish, somehow. I began to feel better when I found out that in the genre of ‘Mysteries and Crime Fiction’, the suggested figures are: Cozies 60,000-70,000; all others 80,000-100,000.

For those of you that want more detail, I found the following figures in posts by various people, including Jacqui Murray – Word Count by Genre. The posts also tackle all the key genres. For crime, the figures are:

  • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
  • mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

That gives me some leeway, at this stage, as I sense my mystery is veering away from a ‘cozy’, although it isn’t going to be an action-driven thriller.

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Last stop on the research bus was Writers Workshop, and a post by Harry Bingham, a crime novelist and founder of the WW. (I’m slightly apprehensive now, as Harry has written a successful crime series, featuring a strange young female Welsh detective, Fiona Griffiths. And my series features a strange young female Welsh detective, Sparkle Anwyl. Uffern gwaedlyd – the bar has been raised.)

Anyway, Harry Bingham says, “Crime novels usually run a bit longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is pretty standard. Don’t go below 75,000 though.”

His post, not only looks at other genres, but also has links on what to do if your novel is too long. I will be using those suggestions come revision time – even just to remove the weasel words and the padding.

By any of the above measures, my debut novel “Spiral of Hooves” fell just inside the lower limit, coming in at 75,400 words. “Fates Maelstrom” may be nearer the upper end, around 90,000.

Insecurity postponed.

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with other writers – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Sandra Hoover,Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell! 

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Mal Sumnor: Bloodhound or Genius?

 

After learning something about Twyla Locke, Brogan Keyes, and about Sparkle Anwyl, one of the detectives, it’s time to meet the other key detective in “Fates Maelstrom”, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel.

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Tom Hiddleston would make a good Mal Sumnor.

Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor is with Bangor CID, part of the North Wales Police or Heddlu Gogledd Cymru, and he’s the senior officer investigating the suspected murder of Aubrey Locke.

Bangor is not exactly round the corner from Craig-o-Niwl. Weren’t there any closer officers?

Not ones that had the expertise to handle a murder investigation, and as you must be aware, the force is stretched at this time of austerity. Of course, the local uniform boys were first on the scene, but the case was passed to my team, as soon as the victim was identified. Aubrey Locke was a member of a wealthy and influential landed family.

So you must be concerned about the case. There must be a great deal riding on this, not least your reputation? What do you think is going to happen next?

The correct resolution is paramount, but I’m confident that I can attain that speedily. Restoring calm in the community, and demonstrating the abilities of the Heddlu Gogledd Cymru is essential.

I am pleased to say that the forensic team have gathered considerable evidence, and a key suspect was arrested. We have some reliable witnesses, so the case is straightforward, and I anticipate an early conclusion.

Straightforward? Why have you brought in an officer from another area?

A formality. My Detective Inspector suggested that we talk to the suspect, Twyla Locke, in her native language, although she speaks Welsh and English – as I do.

However, Detective Constable Meinwen Anwyl has been assigned as she is a Romani speaker, and as she knows the village. But I will show her how to run a flawless investigation. She has to realise that I’m the one with the Criminal Justice BA – with Honours – from Bangor University.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having a female partner, and I don’t mind that she’s a Goth, or even Welsh. But there has to be an understanding – a rapport.

So a University Education is essential to the police force? Not grassroots experience. Doesn’t policing start on the streets?

Both are needed, but, and I quote the College of Policing, the body responsible for setting the standards for police training – ‘all officers should have degrees’ as the job is now of ‘degree-level complexity.’ Times have changed, this is the 21st century and the world is now very hi-tech. We need a police force that can deal with anything – from tackling cyber-crime one day, dealing with child sexual exploitation the next. That demands something that only a degree can bring.

Won’t the cuts to services make that even harder?

At the moment, the situation might well get worse. Lesser crimes, like burglaries, will not be investigated, unless they are high-profile. Therefore, long-term the cuts will make the ability to detect crime more demanding. That is why we need more multi-skilled officers – trained to degree level. That might require more surveillance, but that might be preferable to more crime.

Is there something that makes you a good detective?

The ability to speedily separate evidence into obscure, circumstantial, misleading, and suspicious – and then knowing what to discard, starting with the obscure. It takes intelligence – and yes, that university degree. That education gives me access to invaluable techniques and experts. Despite what the media panics us into believing, the serious crimes don’t happen on the streets, but in that cyber world that we so readily accept. If a criminal runs from me, I can find him using those hi-tech tools – wherever he or she hides.

That is scary, and a reason to stay the right side of you. But why should we care about you?

Apologies, I’m coming over as the tough-no nonsense guy. I probably take my job too seriously, but then I aim to protect and serve the people. But off-duty, down the pub, or over a delicious meal, I can relax, smile, and tell a few jokes. Should I lie and say I have a dog? That’s not me. Give me a chance to prove that I am just a humble man with dreams.

Does that mean people misunderstand you? If so, what do they get wrong?

They see me as a humourless obsessive, who behaves like an authoritarian bully – even if I rarely wear a uniform. But fighting crime is serious work, and there is very little to laugh about. Once the crime is solved, the other side can come out to play – if you let me. Then I can drink with the best of you, and take off the suit and tie.

What about your parents? Do they support you in this dangerous line of work?

Very much so, since they are in the force. My mother is a Chief Constable in another Constabulary, and my father is a Detective Superintendent. Therefore, I was born to the force – yes, I realise that sounds like Star Wars, but isn’t that a plus point. Anyway, they have supported my career at every stage – and they have provided me with some invaluable contacts, as required.

Are you going to die in this story? Should you?

Is there a reason you ask? My intelligence has kept me alive this far. It helps to be able to detect things in advance of the criminals. Staying ahead of them is a challenge, and I don’t intend to be caught out in such a way that I get killed. Don’t forget, in Great Britain, the police rarely carry firearms, so gun crimes are far less than in other countries. And I wear a stab-proof vest.

What is your worst fear?

I try not to focus on fear as it impinges on my effectiveness. Nothing in my profession scares me to that degree. Yes, my adrenalin pumps when I have to deal with dangerous criminals – and some of my colleagues’ driving.

Perhaps, I have a fear of flying – or handing control to a pilot. But then, I know he’s trained so I ignore the sensation. Anyway, I never go abroad as there are so many great places in Great Britain, especially in North Wales. Next time you want to go somewhere special, come to Snowdonia.

Many thanks for your time, detective. I wish you success with the case and your career.

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#NaNoWinner2015

Yesterday was a momentous writing day for me. I passed the 50,000 work mark in NaNoWriMo 2015. which means that I am supposedly a winner. This meant that I got to tweet:

I reached 50,675 words to become a with my draft of Fates Maelstrom – and more words remain out there.

f443498f9932d9f1360c2f9945b0e896Of course, this is just a stepping stone to the next phase of a long but exciting process with “Fates Maelstrom. First, I have to finish this draft, and I estimate that it will come out at around 105,000. [(That’s the amount written so far + the amount in draft 1.a)

Before anyone accuses me of cheating, I haven’t  copied and pasted my first attempt into this one. That first draft was set on Dartmoor not in Snowdonia, had a different main protagonist, and the plotline was… different.

I used that old draft to create an outline, and then rewrote the scenes, or new scenes, as if that original was destroyed. Think Robert Louis Stevenson burning “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” to avoid salvaging it after his wife’s comments. Except in my case, my wife liked the first draft, most of the research – such as family trees – got used, and the original hasn’t been burnt – yet.

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Now comes the interesting part. I made a few changes as I went along. The original antagonist was one of three POVs, but I’ve dropped his maniacal thoughts. Result – more suspicions abound surrounding the other characters. Plus one of the characters has now seduced the wrong woman – in fact, the main detective. And a chase scene appeared that was never there, but it worked – as I was writing it. Where did that escape vehicle come from?

So today, I’m having to re-think where the plot is going… especially as I’ve decided to kill someone else. Supposedly, that can help if the book is sagging – or the writer. The daily word count will dip, but I have some great ideas brewing.

See you all in December.

P.S. It also gives me time to write next week’s interview with Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor of the North Wales Police. He keeps thinking that he’s solved the case, but I believe in keeping him employed. Poor love.

Getting Back on Track

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December lies ahead full of promises and good intentions. Behind me lies NaNoWriMo, but not a fourth successive win. Congratulations are due to all those who achieved the magic 50k words, or more, I know what you did to achieve that target.

This confession is my contribution to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, in the hope that there is a useful moral, and maybe some encouragement for others that tripped on the track.

My own November was more like NaughtyNoWritingMonth – from day one. A few months ago, I had great plans for NaNoWriMo, in the form of the outline for “Seeking A Knife”, an attempt to turn an old WW2 TV drama proposal into a mystery with its origin in the War of 1812.

But I abandoned that plan in about August, wondering if I could re-write one of my old draft’s instead. “Fates Maelstrom” is crying out for a relocation to Snowdonia – it will happen, one day. I had “Fates Maelstrom” down as my NaNo novel but felt I would be cheating to upload more than a short blurb.

 

Snowdon at sunset

Snowdon at Sunset by Juanita Clarke

 

Anyway, in October I finished writing “Storm’s Compass”, my first set of short stories, and they needed editing, prior to the critical eye of beta-readers. Another great plan. But then I got asked to ‘ghost write’ some children’s stories. I sketched out some ideas over November – scribbles that might qualify as writing. I even found a way to tie in my character, Harriet The Flying Hare. But I ground to a halt, stymied by a lack of feedback and the reluctance to be a ‘ghost writer’.

Dejected, deflected, and disillusioned, I turned to the ‘dark side’ – in fact I spent more and more time gaming. Star Wars: The Old Republic to be honest. Well they did have 12x experience until December 1st, so who wouldn’t be tempted from the path of writing.

Now I have to kick my addiction and re-focus on the important things in life… like my partner and our puppies… and accounts… and Christmas. Have I missed something?

Moral: when you need a sanity break from the word-grind, don’t let the break become a slide into the morass of reckless pleasure.

"Winter Landscape" by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

“Winter Landscape” by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We are meant to talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. Our struggles and triumphs. We try to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visiting others in the group and connect with our fellow writers is always fun, and a chance to discover that we are not alone. 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the December 3 posting of the IWSG are Heather Gardner, T. Drecker from Kidbits, Eva E. Solar at Lilicasplace, and Patsy Collins!

My Writing Process

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This is one of those blog memes doing the rounds and it was Facebook writer friend David W Robinson who encouraged me to have a go  – although I had to confess that it might be another means to put off my outstanding edit. In fact that’s been outstanding for eleven months.

First I should say that David is the opposite of me, as a visit to his ‘My Writing Process’ post at http://www.dwrob.com/2014/05/my-writing-process/ should make clear. He’s also a very prolific writer and one of the awesome Crooked Cat authors, which is in contrast to my single novel in print. Or can I count all those magazine and newspaper articles… guess not.

However, we share a passion for crime even if his see daylight beyond his eyes. Please check out his site and enjoy his writing.

Enough prevaricating, time to confess about My Writing Process.

Beyond the words ‘sporadic’ and ‘erratic’ there is a pattern. At specific times of the year, mainly during November and NaNoWriMo, I focus on getting a first draft down on paper. I usually aim to plot this novel out in detail during previous months, leaving room for the characters to introduce their own direction to the tale. Sometimes I manage to fit the draft for another novel into a year, and write that in the same way – outline and fast first draft.

However, this process has left me with five unfinished novels, including the one that I class as “the outstanding edit” – ‘Wyrm Bait’. I wrote the first draft in July 2011 and I revised it in 2012 using a cut & past approach = printed version, lots of colour pens, cards, shuffling and slicing. When I was satisfied with the third draft of ‘Wyrm Bait’, I sent it to some professional editors – Hyland & Byrne – and received some very constructive comments, suggestions and line-by-line changes. That was in June and I still need to start on the next revision using their material.

That means there’s no writing process there, although I have completed another NaNo draft and various shorts set in my Gossamer Flamesl world. Somehow re-writing and editing shorts is easier to face than a whole novel. Too many distractions standing in my way like emails, reading other blogs, social media, not to mention moving house.

Yet, if I take a step back and look at this all carefully, I can see a pattern. Rather than work in large chunks of text or time, I choose smaller slivers to focus on – small specific targets, like short stories.

And what is a novel but a series of carefully crafted scenes, with twists, turns and threads weaving them together. Maybe dividing it up that way, pacing myself, will become my re-writing process.

So I have no excuse now. Tomorrow I must start on revising ‘Wyrm Bait’ – or maybe next week.

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Eight Headless Chickens

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It was a good end to 2013 with my first book published and the first draft of the sequel written, but January has been eight chaotic days, running around like the headless cliché… sorry, I mean chicken.

As I said in my non-resolution, Baiting the Bull, I had simplified my plans for 2014, aiming for just a small step each day. In a way that worked, but my mind still wants to veer off down different tracks.

Is that because it knows that I am playing mind games? I can’t hide the potential workload from myself, not when it mocks me each day. I sit at the computer and know what is going on, however hard I try to shut the demands off.

There are at least eight demanding chickens that I cannot hide from.

Cover credit: Danielle Sands

Cover credit: Danielle Sands

  1. Spiral of Hooves: the novel won’t sell itself so I need to promote it, without spamming the world.
  2. Wyrm Bait: the second novel I wrote, which has been professionally edited. But I’m finding it hard to tackle a rewrite.
  3. Gossamer Steel: a collection of short stories that links to Wyrm Bait. Where my passion is at the moment. Also have a linked novella, The Last Leaf, my 2011 NaNoWriMo win that needs editing.
  4. Challenges: 100 k in 100 days and My 500 Words. These give me the daily challenge to write – as in 3 – but not to edit. Will suffer when 7 takes over.
  5. Reading Blogs and other Social Media: finding enough time to give these justice is nigh impossible, and yet I need to connect with other people out there. That includes all the amazing IWSG folk.
  6. Reading novels on Kindle &/or paper: a writer needs to read, if only for pleasure. But sadly, as a slow reader, I have difficulty reading on a Kindle but that’s how I buy my books. Quicker reader the old fashioned, un-ecological way.
  7. Packing for our move to Wales next month: in less than eight weeks we are moving to Harlech. Boxes are taking over our lives, and the other details must be sorted. Writing will get harder.
  8. Gaming: something had to suffer and this is it. Some would say good riddance to this waste of valuable time. But it is crucial escapism, especially when you are trapped by a wheelchair. It is also the inspiration behind 2 & 3.

I need to focus myself back on the basic steps forward, and stop letting the headless syndrome affect me. I just need to identify the priorities. Without a head, this chicken can’t cross the road and get to the other side.

What do you think, dear reader? What’s the best way to cross the road?

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This is my first posting of 2014 for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group This is when we release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are Bob Milne, River Fairchild, Julie Dao, and Sarah Foster!  Many thanks to you all for your time and effort towards making all IWSG members feel welcome.

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And for those interested in Headless Chickens, visit:

http://www.coloradoguy.com/mike-the-headless-chicken/fruita.htm