#IWSG – Word View

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure, although a notch less.

I finally got my entry for the 2019 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest in with a day to spare. Finally, I suppressed my fears, switched off my urge to edit, edit, edit, and edit forever. I managed to integrate almost all the comments from my wonderful beta readers. However, my step kids were no shows as readers. But I had an awesome MG kid-reader from the UK – thanks Rebecca, for some awesome suggestions.

Insecurity postponed until the results appear next year.

Now, I’m stressing about my Pitch Wars 2019 submission – Fevered Few. The required query letter, one-page synopsis, and the first chapter of my completed manuscript are achievable by the September 25th-27th deadline. But I’m unsure if I have a “completed and polished full-length, fiction manuscript”. Complete perhaps, but ‘dusted’ might fit better than ‘polished’.

So, another insecure month. Or maybe, I’ll work on my short stories and the drug cartel in Bolivia.

Anyway, on to the IWSG monthly question.

September 4 question – If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

 I’m writing this in an office shared with my wife, that overlooks a suburban US street – not my dream location.

Requirements for change:

  1. Water view: by a river would be good or overlooking a beach or ocean.
  2. Mountain view: looking out onto green alpine meadows or something with a snow cap.
  3. Log cabin: a feel of being in the woods, surrounded by trees.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA, Phantom Ship – Photo by Brian W. Schaller
Published under the Creative Commons license – CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In my mind, I see a cabin on Crater Lake in Oregon, USA. We once looked at murals to create some of that on the wall behind/beside our desks. Sound effects? We were planning to move to a mobile home park with houses overlooking a lake – but that’s not happening.

Of course, our house and office in North Wales was on the edge of woodland, overlooked Ceredigion Bay, and had a view of Snowdon. Plus, we had jackdaws in our garden. Just try ignoring our neighbours-from-Hell.

My wife’s photo may not show the estuary or the tip of Harlech Castle, but we could see them, especially from our landscaped garden. But the memories are there – and inspire my writing about Detective Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police/Heddlu Gogledd Cymru in my Snowdon Shadows series.

And that photo has been enlarged, so it hangs above my desk with a red Welsh Dragon in front. Outside the window, beside our new rose garden, is a fountain of running water. Good enough for the next story, especially as we are spending the last weekend of September in a cabin in the mountains surrounded by pine trees.

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The awesome co-hosts for the September 4 posting of the IWSG are Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantiner!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause.)

Purpose of IWSG: 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!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Sleuthing Snowdon Shadows

Where is Detective Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police heading?

Or rather where do I start her story? What comes first? The goth teenager or the quirky detective?

For the Blogging from A to Z April (2019) Challenge, I wrote a 19,000 word Sparkle story in twenty-six parts – Azure Spark. It is a standalone case that some readers have said I should publish as a novella. However, that throws up some complications.

First complication: although Sparkle & Co., resolved the Azure Spark case, an arson investigation was left ongoing – my ‘O for Obstruction’ post,  for the bi-monthly WEP/IWSG Challenge. April’s theme was ‘Jewel Box’ which became the name of the torched gift shop. Initially, I planned to continue the investigation with the June theme, ‘Caged Bird’ and then in the three subsequent WEG/IWSG posts, culminating with ‘Footprints’ in December. But that means holding back Azure Spark’. Doesn’t it?

Or I can write that arson case now as a ‘bonus’ incident.

Second complication: backstory. I can add a few pieces of backstory in ‘Azure Spark’ when I re-draft the story. What do readers need to know? Why did Sparkle become a cop? How did she meet her lover, Kama? However, all these incidents exist as short stories. Sparkle’s backstory unfolded as various shorts I developed as a collection with a framing investigation for NaNoWriMo 2018, titled “Fevered Few” – including a case I wrote for the WEP/IWSG Challenge last year.

What do readers want now?

Third complication: ‘Azure Spark’ references a key case in ‘Fevered Few’but in a way I hope gives all that the reader requires. Or does the case need more detail? How much detail is too much? Or should ‘Azure Spark’ be part of the collection?

Okay, my gut feeling is that ‘Azure Spark’ the novella is my starting point. Test the water/market with that, then continue with the other Sparkle Anwyl stories.

Do you, dear reader, agree?

I intended ‘Fevered Few’ to be the opening of Snowdon Shadows, a series of mystery novels set around Snowdonia in North Wales. However, in the beginning of that WIP, Sparkle doesn’t know she’s a policewoman – or Heddlu as the Welsh police are called. Amnesia is the antagonist blocking her memories of her first cases and more. So, ‘Fevered Few’ was the start of the series – before April 2019’s A to Z Challenge.

I also have three novels to complete in order: “Fates Maelstrom”, “Seeking A Knife”, and “Ruined Retreat”. I’ve drafted FM five times, SAK is still incomplete, and RR was my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel (draft one).

So how do I make ‘Azure Spark’ fit into the release schedule?

Does anyone want to read more?

Brass in Pocket – a review

Amid my factual research for my North Wales mysteries, I’m trying to read the few Wales-based crime novels that have been written in the last decade. However, the first fictional Welsh policeman that I encountered was Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans in Evan’s Gate the eighth in her series set in Wales. I need to read the other nine, having found this one on a market stall in Porthmadog, North Wales.

For the less-cosy and the grittier tales, I have turned to Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series and Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, the latter set in the familiar location of North Wales. Time to review Book 1 then.

Brass in Pocket (Inspector Drake #1)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

Two traffic officers are killed on an isolated mountain pass in North Wales. Inspector Drake is called to the scene and quickly discovers a message left by the killer – traffic cones in the shape of a No 4.

The killer starts sending the Wales Police Service lyrics from famous rock songs. Are they messages or is there some hidden meaning in them?

Does it all mean more killings are likely? When a politician is killed Drake has his answer. And then the killer sends more song lyrics. Now Drake has to face the possibility of more deaths but with numbers dominating the case Drake has to face his own rituals and obsessions.

Finally when the killer threatens Drake and his family he faces his greatest challenge in finding the killer before he strikes again.

BrassInPocket 

Review 4.3 stars

From the moment that two traffic officers are killed on the Crimea Pass, I felt that I was back in Snowdonia and I was drawn in. The setting of North Wales was always the hook for me and it felt real. Having lived there for a few years, I know some of the places. I could visualise the locations, even when I hadn’t been everywhere mentioned. A seamless blend of the familiar with the unknown. I want to return to Puleston’s world even if I can’t return to Snowdonia.

It was hard to like Inspector Drake with his odd habits, like his obsession with tidiness and routines, but I felt drawn to his determination and his team’s dogged work to decipher the significance of the killer’s clues from numbers to song lyrics.

As the killings continued, I set myself the challenge of discovering the killer ahead of the police team. At one point, I believed that I was almost there, but the plot alluded me. The killer seemed to think the numbers and lyrics meant something – unless he was toying with us. There were moments where I wondered if everything was a red-herring. The press played a key role in that, and as an ex-journalist, I have seen what some of them can do.

I was interested in the ways that the novel’s police operated, knowing that the author was a retired lawyer so knew his facts. The details rang true in the telling. I realise that the UK police underwent changes in 2015 so that means Inspector Drake might be facing some frustrating times in future books.

As the threats got more personal in this first book, the life that Drake had created was thrown into the spotlight, including the fallout from his obsessions that kept distracting him from what was important. The characterisation of Drake felt, at times, repetitive but then that was what he had become. Those habits can grate, but he rang true. I had an OCD neighbour once and Drake fits those patterns.

However, the supporting characters never quite earned so much space. His Detective Sergeant, Caren Waits had some scenes in her POV, but they felt like side-tracks and I never felt that we got to know her enough – except through Drake’s viewpoint. As for the other characters, they all had distinct personalities but there were moments when I felt there were too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. Maybe that’s the problem when searching for a serial killer.

However, having a POV for the killer worked much better than the POV for Caren. Seeing the plot unfold from the mind of the ‘game-master’ worked as he drove the plot more than Drake at times.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #2.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

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Season’s Greetings to all my followers and visitors – or should I say Nadolig Llawen.

May 2018 bring us all inspiration, great reading, good health, hope and peace.

NaNoWriMo Musings

NaNo-2017-Winner-Twitter-Header

November has gone and another NaNoWriMo is over. Time to think about what I discovered.

First some basic stats. This was my sixth year of NaNo and my fourth win, writing at least 50,000 words. Other wins were: 2012 – Wyrm Blood; 2015 – Fates Maelstrom; 2016 – Eagle Passage. I did write over 50k in 2011 but failed to validate that total in time. Although I fell short some years and didn’t start in 2014, I have completed the first draft of every ‘novel’ by the end of the year. My ‘lifetime achievement’ – NaNo writing – is 354,334 words.

My daily average for this November was 2,008 words and as a result, I reached the 50k target on November 22nd, in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my US family – without feeling that I ought to be writing. By the end of November, I had written 60,264 words of Ruined Retreat.

On reflection, I realise that with perseverance I can write 2,000 words per day – if I know roughly where I am going. I did have to minimise the time working on emails, checking Facebook, getting distracted but I wasn’t a total bore, I hope.

Back to that outline: a rough one, sketchier than with previous ‘novels’ but with the advantage of being Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series, so I knew some of the characters. Now, as I return to the fifth draft of Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of the series, I know even more about the characters and where they are going.

Previously, I had plotted my novels with intricate detail, almost scene by scene. The problem was that diversions were difficult even if the characters demanded them. The danger of a too-rough outline is having too many wild plot horses to tame – as with Spiral of Hooves which took thirteen years to complete.

 

Dolbadarn Castle

Photo of Dolbadarn Castle, Snowdonia by Etrusia UK on Flickr

 

This time, I used a mystery plot template from The Novel Factory at https://www.novel-software.com/ and the three-act structure proved ideal, especially when I discovered that Scrivener had a similar three-act fiction template when I created the Ruined Retreat file. Having merged the two ‘guides’ to create, my novel flowed out more easily and logically. On November 26th, I completed the first draft and spent the next four days reading through what I had written, changing the glaring errors and marking the phrases that needed to be worked on and developed.

An interesting side-note is the research for this novel. Some research was done while I roughed out the plot, although that was more like compiling links for later use. I also marked up keywords in the text with Scrivener – yellow highlights and red text – to remind me where research was still needed. However, I must confess that my research brain doesn’t always switch off and niggles me until I check a fact. But I do ‘favourite’ the site if there’s too much to check, then knuckle down to writing more words.

Okay, 60,264 words are not going to be the final total for Ruined Retreat, but it’s the first draft so something to build on. I have finished a first draft during NaNo before but in most cases that was the furthest stage reached, even if they can be developed. This time, I won’t get to draft two for a while, but writing Ruined Retreat makes the earlier books in the series more achievable in 2018.

So, once I’ve cleared some non-writing priorities – like getting a good US health insurance policy and my UK tax return –  will make finishing Fates Maelstrom top of my agenda. But I suspect I’m facing a tough task deciphering the copious notes that were meant to bring order to a writhing plot some months ago.

Or do I just ignore the stray sheep and write knowing where I’m heading – towards a ruined retreat in Snowdonia?

NaNo-2017-Winner-Badge

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.

robert-louis-stevenson

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.