IAM15 Interview…Tony Talbot

    Thanks to everyone for taking part in Indie Month 2015!

Hope to see you next year…

IAM 2015 - Topper

To round out Indie Month, we’re talking to AfW regular Tony Talbot

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TT-2015

Tony Talbot started writing short stories in 2008, after a dream he had and couldn’t shake; Finally his wife told him to write it down or stop talking about it.

He wrote his first Young Adult novel, Over the Mountain, in 2008, and has completed several others and a growing raft of short stories since.

He lives in a village in Leicestershire, UK, with an American wife he met online and two cats. As well as writing, he enjoys reading, playing on the Wii-U and not getting enough exercise.

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What is you favourite way to spend a rainy day?

Listening to it and watching it from somewhere dry. I love a good rainstorm.

You’ve found a time machine on your driveway this morning – where are you going to go in it?

Forward a week so I can sell it to myself on Ebay. 🙂

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

A laptop, A Kindle with a solar charger and a good internet connection. And an endless supply of Jelly Beans.

What is the one book you think everyone should read?

Oh, so many! To Kill a Mockingbird is just sublime, as good as it gets.

How do you react to a bad review?

Sulk for weeks. Tear my hair out. Then go and write something else. You’re never going to please everyone, so if most people like it, you’re on to something.

How did you celebrate the sale of your first book?

Mostly it was shock! “They liked it! I’m getting paid for doing this, can you believe it?”

One food you would never eat?

Broccoli. It’s just not right, and I don’t trust it one bit. I always feel like it’s judging me.

What has been your most rewarding experience since being published?

Having reviewers saying that something made them cry, or carried them away to another world for a while. That’s pretty amazing.

What was your favorite book when you were younger?

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton. I adored that book, and I still have a copy.

What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Never give up. And always put everything you have into everything you write.

If you could choose only one time period and place to live, when and where would you live and why?

I’d love to be right at the place and time where we know, without a doubt, that aliens are communicating with us. To look into the sky that night, point at a white dot among the millions and say, “There they are.”

What is your favorite Quote?

Currently, not one from a book, but from a maintenance plate on an elevator / lift: Keep well oiled to ensure satisfaction.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

A librarian for a while. An undertaker (I thought: it’s great job security!). It was always something always bookish and indoors-y.

If a movie was made about your life, who would you want to play the lead role and why?

Wil Wheaton. He’s about four days older than me, so the age is right for a start. He’s a great actor, very under used talent. I think he could pull off playing the Shining Light that is Me. 😉

Who are your favorite authors of all time?

Dean Koontz for seeing the tragedies of the world with humour; Stephen King for seeing the horror that lurks inside normal people; Charles Dickens for his characterisation.

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?

Oh, all of them are parts of me, the good bits and the bad. The lovers of rainstorms and the socially awkward teenagers.

What’s the craziest writing idea you’ve had?

There was a photo essay the other week in “The Atlantic” – they have a cool photo section – and it was people who dress as zombies and then go and parade through cities. I thought: What about if real zombies were in there as well and no one noticed – they all thought they were REALLY good at staying in character while they ate people’s brains…And how would the cops know who to take down or arrest?

Hidden talent?

Double jointed thumbs – both of them. It’s a little freaky.

What movie and/or book are you looking forward to this year?

Star Wars Episode VII. It’s going to be BIG.

Cats or Dog?

I have two cats now, so I’m heading towards cats on this one…

Apples or Oranges?

Oranges if they don’t have pips. Apples if they aren’t too mushy.

Cause or Effect?

Oh, effects. They’re much more fun, aren’t they?

Heads or Tails?

Heads. Always heads.

Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook. Twitter is a strange, truncated world…

Truth or Dare?

Truth. Or maybe dare. Is there a third option?

Text or Talk?

Talk. I can’t get the hang of text speak…

Favorite quote from a movie?

“Why is the rum gone?!” Captain Jack Sparrow.

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Guest Post: Short Stories 101

I was emailing an Australian friend the other day (Anna Hub). She’s written four novels and just finished a fifth (The Ninth Hunter, well worth looking for when it comes out). But…she’s not sure where to start with short stories.

Most writers start with short stories and progress to novels, so it’s curious to see it the other way round…

“Bigger” (54 words)

“Mick? Did you hear that?” Elbows him awake.
“Wassup?”
“Something downstairs.”
“Bloody cat.”
“No. It sounded bigger.”
“Bloody dog then.”
“No! Bigger.”
“Bloody kids.”
“Bigger!”
“Bigger?”
“Yeah. Lots bigger.”
Mick purses lips. “Burglar?”
Eyes wide. “Yeah.”
“Big burglar?”
“Yeah.”
“Good.”
“Wot?”
“Then he can take the bloody cat, bloody dog and bloody kids. Goodnight!”

 …the trick with short stories is to use your reader’s knowledge of the world to your advantage. I didn’t need to say these two are in bed and asleep when the story starts; I didn’t need to say it’s most likely the middle of the night (Most burglars don’t work afternoons, after all). “Elbows him awake” takes care of most of that in three words. Mick has a name, but his partner doesn’t. Trim the fat and leave what you need.

Short stories don’t need to be that short either. Technically, anything under 20,000 words is ‘a short story’, so you have a lot of room to move around in. Most of mine come to between 1500 and 3000 words, for example.

The real fun with short stories is to take what the readers assume and find a way to twist the end. So a short story about a man exploring an alien world turns out to be a robot exploring earth, for instance. Or drop in a humorous spin, like “Bigger”.

Here a great one from science fiction master of the twist and short, Frederic Brown:

“Earth was dead after the last atomic war. Nothing grew, nothing lived. The last man sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

Everything you need is right there. We know who the story is about, we know the world he lives in, and there’s even a hook for suspense. Twenty seven words to create a world and tell a story.

Shorter than that? Here’s a (possibly apocryphal) story from Ernest Hemingway:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Short stories are a great way of perfecting the art of keeping the bits you don’t need out of your novels as well. Sharpen your skills on them and it will always serve you well.

(Reblogged from Musings: The Blog of Tony Talbot)

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Where can we find you?

Find me online at Amazon, @authortony, http://www.tony-talbot.co.uk – or drop by for a chat at Goodreads.

Thanks for taking part in Indie Month, Tony!

Writing Tips: How to write a great author bio

This caught my eye today on the BookBaby blog – a nice resource for authors on writing, publishing, marketing and much more. Anyway, if you’re thinking of revising your author bio – or even just want to check that you’re on the right track, this is a good little article to help you along the way.

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2014/03/how-to-write-a-great-author-bio/?utm_campaign=BB1510&utm_source=BBeNews&utm_medium=Email&spMailingID=48142534&spUserID=OTI1MTU2NjExMgS2&spJobID=640344388&spReportId=NjQwMzQ0Mzg4S0

Tony’s Writing Tips: That’s what he said

I stumbled across a blog the other week. I won’t tell you who it belonged to, but they were giving a writing tip on ‘using alternatives to he said / she said’. They gave quite an impressive list of adjectives and managed not to include any adverbs (-ly ending words). It was well thought out and presented.

But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to tell you exactly the opposite:

He said – she said is absolutely fine.

Seriously – don’t worry about it and don’t look for anything else; most people are reading the dialogue and not overly wondering how your characters are saying it. Give them a context and they’ll be happy.

The only exception to this is rule I would suggest are asked and replied. Feel free to use those as much as you need.

Let’s do an example and see which one you think works the best:

 Adjectives

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I hissed.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he inquired.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I breathed.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he wondered.

Nothing wrong with that, you might think. Works, doesn’t it?

Yes, it works…but I think you’re over-egging the pudding. Give your readers some credit for their intelligence. The context tells them your two characters aren’t shouting, doesn’t it? They know when one of them has asked a question, don’t they?

He said – She said

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I said.

“Sorry,” he replied.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he asked.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I said.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he asked.

Just for another idea, here’s the way I would write it. Strip out the said and dialogue attributes as much as you can – fillet your dialogue down to the bone. This has the effect of speeding up the pace as well –the stripped dialogue drags you through the story.

Filleted

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!”

“Sorry.”

I waved him to silence and peeked over the boulder again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?”

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them.”

Jack moved close beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?”

Give your readers a clear enough scene and they’ll know who said Quiet! And who apologised for it – without you having to lead them through it.

Tony’s Writing Tips: Ignore that Elephant in the corner

Adam yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, blearily taking in the empty place at the breakfast table. “Morning, mum. Where’s dad? Did he leave for work already?”

His mum didn’t turn away from the eggs she was scrambling. “We had an argument last night, so after he fell asleep, I shot him.”

Adam yawned again. “Extra butter in those eggs?”

“Of course.”

Adam poured himself some juice. “Is this orange? Did they change the ingredients?”

This silly piece of writing is an example of what writers call “The Elephant in the Room”.

Elephants, are of course, very hard to ignore. Unless your characters are wearing blinkers or earmuffs, having someone throw something major into your story and then not have anyone react to it is generally not a good idea.

Your character got up last night and shot someone, and all you want to know is if there’s extra butter with those scrambled eggs. At which point, your readers will start to wonder what the gubbins are you talking about, and why aren’t you talking about what’s really going on here.

Think of the facet of your story as a spotlight aimed at a darkened stage. There it is, shining away on the box on a table. The thing you want your characters to talk about is in that box – why Adam’s mother shot his father. And what are you doing? Shining your spotlight wayyyy over there, talking about scrambled eggs. Why do we care about scrambled eggs? We keep looking back at the box, no matter how hard you don’t want us to.

The other side of this is where magic and misdirection comes in. When you dim the lights to shine it on the eggs, we don’t see the stagehands swooping away the box and bringing the elephant on stage until the lights come back up – in my example, perhaps Adam pulls his own gun while we look away. Then we want the characters to talk about something else, while we do some magic in the dark.

But, the thing with “EITR” is that this misdirection is never given to a reveal. In my example, no one would ever mention the shooting again. If you cut away to focus on something else, fair enough; but remember to cut back to what your readers are thinking about:

Adam yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, blearily taking in the empty place at the breakfast table. “Morning, mum. Where’s dad? Did he leave for work already?”

His mum didn’t turn away from the eggs she was scrambling. “We had an argument last night, so after he fell asleep, I shot him.”

Adam yawned again. “Extra butter in those eggs?”

“Of course.”

He poured himself some juice. “So you shot dad, huh? About time.”

“I thought so too.”

If you don’t do this, you’ll have a pachyderm of problems on your hands.

Tony’s thoughts…Why your story needs a McGuffin

I was working on “Book Five” this week, and there was a section that was bothering me – I needed a character to be kidnapped, but couldn’t figure out a logical way of doing it. After I solved the problem (That’s the great thing about writing – I get to kidnap people and no one calls the cops!), it occurred to me that the character is a McGuffin.

A wha? What’s a McGuffin? You might ask.

A McGuffin is something in a story that is important to the characters, but is otherwise irrelevant to the plot, and is (In most cases) completely interchangeable with something else.

You with me? No? Okay.

Here’s an example. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is a McGuffin. Change it from “The Ark” to “The Necklace”, and the plot of the film doesn’t change. Change it a “The Crystal Skull” and the plot is the same. Change it to “The Sandwich” and the plot is the same.
Bear in mind, a McGuffin can also be something abstract, like power or money – it doesn’t have to be a physical object.

The McGuffin drives the story forward, but its nature isn’t important. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of these. He said, “In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.”
George Lucas thinks the McGuffin should be something the reader-viewer cares about. Sometimes it’s not obvious what the McGuffin is either; Lucas says the McGuffin in Star Wars is R2-D2 – the thing that all the characters are chasing or protecting, in other words.

If anyone out there has read my own book Taken, the McGuffin is the character Sacmis – Amon, my main character, spends most of the book trying to find out who she is, and by the time he finds out, it’s irrelevant; he’s discovered other things about his world that means he doesn’t need to know. But his need to discover who she is what drives him forward.

The McGuffin also ties into something fundamental about characters in stories: They have to want something – a character who doesn’t want something shouldn’t be there. A sandwich, a crystal skull, a necklace. Or a Lost Ark of the Covenant. That will be your McGuffin.

In other words, at the centre of your story is an object, or an idea, something that everything else spins around, but is almost completely interchangeable. The man who craves power could as easily be the man who craves money.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to make myself a sandwich.

Does your story have a good McGuffin? Comments below!

Tony’s Thoughts…Finishing A work in Progress

In September 2012, I blogged about the start of something new. Well, now it’s nearly finished! Crack open the champagne and celebrate with a pizza. Woohoo, when I finish Book Five, let’s roll that puppy out to Kindle and the world!

Except, of course, I won’t have finished it at all.

I’ll be nowhere near finished. In some ways, I won’t have even started.

What I will have is 50k-60k words of a first draft story, a story I wrote just for myself and posted extracts on Facebook just for fun.

So here’s what happens next…

Draft Zero

I suppose most people would call it a first draft, but I’m going to call it draft zero. Draft zero finishes with me writing ‘The End’. There are words in zero that no one else will ever see…because now I start the re-writes, and with the re-writes come the deletions and the inserts. A suggestion from Stephen King is that drafts should always be 10% shorter when you’re finished, and as I much as I try to follow it, sometimes it’s 10% longer. It tends to balance out though, between the scenes I want extending and ones I want cutting.

What I’ll be doing is looking at the notes I made for myself when I write – I put them in bold so I can see them easily – and I’ll be working my way through the whole book, looking for ways to drop in the extras – or not, as the case may be. I’ll be cleaning up my grammar and characters as I go and making it look a little prettier.

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Wow, so you’re done right? I hear you say.

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First draft

Ahh yeah, sure I am. Sure. I. Am.

Here’s one of the strangest things you do as a writer. You take your (what is now) first draft, print it out carefully, and then: Put it in a drawer for six weeks and forget it.

Yep. Spend the best part of a year writing a book, and then do your best to forget it exists. Write something else. Learn to juggle. Get some fresh air – I hear that’s nice, although I don’t get much of it. Whatever you do, do not touch it.

How will you know when the day is right to pick it up again? It’s one of those annoying answers, because for me, I just know. Sorry, I don’t have a better answer than that.

So one day in the future, when you know you’ve forgotten that you ever wrote this pile of papers, you take out your first draft and you do exactly what you did with draft zero: Edit it again, rewrite where you have to, take parts out, put them back.

The reason I like to do this with a printed copy is that the change of format really does help me see mistakes. I can look at it as a reader, and not as a writer, and I can see the changes I’d want to make it a book I’d want to read. Killing the parts that don’t add to the story. And this is when it gets weird people, because there are parts in there you don’t remember writing. Which is pretty freaky when you think about it.

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Now you’re going to self-publish it?

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Second Draft

Sure. After this:

Wow. This is a biggie. I’m actually going to show someone else what I’ve been doing in the spare bedroom since September. For me, that person will be my wife. She’ll – hopefully – pull it apart and tell me where the plot holes are that I didn’t see…and I’d rather it was her than a reviewer on Amazon. She’ll correct the grammar and spelling mistakes that got by the spellchecker (and she’ll complain about my two word paragraphs).

Back for another round of editing, although at this point it might only be a sentence or two.

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So it’s got by Mrs Talbot, and it’s ready to go?

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Third Draft

Yeah, right. (<—There’s one of those two word paragraphs….)

NOW it goes out to my beta-readers; the first people in the world who are likely to want to read it. More edits? Maybe, but they may love it as it stands and I might be lucky.

Beta-readers are a new one for me on this book, so I’ll get back to you on that one.

Fourth Draft

With Eight Mile Island, I used a professional YA editor (Jennifer Moorman) for the first time, and I’m going to be running the manuscript by her this time as well. Last time she spotted a major flaw in EMI that my wife and I missed, so I think it’s worth it.

And after Jennifer has been paid, I’ll be thinking about a book cover. But there’s enough back and forward between myself and Jennifer to call the next step…

Fifth Draft

Wow, it’s been a long way getting here. How long has this taken? That depends on how quickly my beta-readers read it, how quickly Mrs Talbot read it, and a dozen other things. And don’t forget those vital six weeks sitting in a drawer.

But NOW Book Five is finished. Now I can order the pizza! Now all I have to do is start promoting it. And converting it to Kindle. And the formatting of the Lulu.com paperback…

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So after all that?

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Start thinking about Book Six, of course…

Tony’s Thinking: Finding an Old Friend

 

A few years ago, I was wandering through the library at the school where I work, and there was a book seller vending his wares. Just on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he had Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton.

And he did. Wow. Nostalgia trip! It was like finding an old childhood teddy bear in a forgotten cupboard.

You see, B&B was one of the first books I read independently when I was about six, and I devoured it. The plot was simple, the characters easy to grasp and I loved that book. I still love it, and sometimes still even quote it (“It’s cheaper to spit in a bus”, “Pale hands, my heart is singing…”). I read it over and over, and it soaked into me.

I was utterly transported by it, carried away for the first time I could remember. My love of books and writing is all down to this. Here is where it all started for me.

As a result, B&B is part of who I am today. It got me into reading, and there’s been nothing I’ve ever read since that has given me such simple pleasure. Flicking through it again years later, I was still captivated by it, like finding a childhood toy that can still transport your imagination to another world. It was like stepping back to being six years old again.

I was swept away by it when I reread it, and that’s something every book should do to you. Take you away from where you are and drop you somewhere else, whether it’s by magical bed like in B&B or Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter.

There’s an elemental power in the first book we remember reading, something that stops with us for the rest of our lives. One of the reasons I love reading – and one of the reasons I love writing – is to write something like this: Something that doesn’t leave you, but becomes part of who you are as you go through life.

I haven’t come close to writing anything as elegant as B&B yet, which is why I keep trying. I don’t think I’ll ever come close to anything like this wonderful and powerfully simple little story that captured my imagination and then set it free again.

Thank you Mary Norton. Thank you more than I could ever tell you.

 

Have a favourite childhood book? Leave your comment below.