Thursday, 31 December 2009

Milestones and Future Plans

With 2009 drawing to a close, it's only slightly coincidental that Book 2 (now titled BROKEN) is in the final stages of polishing, ready for delivery to Lora, our agent.

This year has seen, from nowhere, the birth of Marshall Buckley and the beginnings of (hopefully) and long and successful writing partnership. While, I'm sure, the prospect of writing a book in partnership with another person probably fills many with horror, for us it works incredibly well, and that's despite the 2,500 mile (and 3 1/2 hour) difference. In fact, it's possible that those difference actually help, and it's impossible to be constantly under each other's feet (and it's much easier to ignore an email or MSN message than to ignore somebody face-to-face. Not that we ever do... at least, not yet!)

When the idea for THE LONG SECOND was first raised, back in March, I don't think either of us thought we would achieve so much in such a short time, but here we are, nine months later, with two books completed and a raft of ideas waiting in the wings, agency representation, and the first book out on submission with multiple publishers.

On top of that, the connections and friendships forged through FaceBook, Blogs and Twitter have been inspiring and remarkable, and to all those who have offered advice and encouragement (either directly or indirectly) I thank you, most sincerely.

With BROKEN about to leave home, all attention is now focused on the next book, which is not part of The Long Second series. It's called NUM63R5 (that's NUMBERS for those of you who have trouble with such numerical substitutions). Whether it keeps that name is anyone's guess. THE LONG SECOND kept its name from the start, but BROKEN was originally titled PARALLELS.

To round up the year, I thought I'd share the contents of what I long ago christened the "Ideas Tank". I'm only sharing the titles, though, the story behind each will remain a mystery.

We have:
The Long Second Series, Book 3: INBETWEEN
The Long Second Series, Book 4: AFTERLIFE

Some of them are little more than titles, with only the most basic synopsis behind them, others are more fully formed. For example, LAST MAN STANDING was supposed to be the next book to be written, before the idea for NUM63R5 came along.
It's possible, of course, that some will never be written, and some may become combinations of two of more ideas.

But, with that many ideas in less than a year, we're going to be busy writing for some time.

And with that, I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2010.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Strictly speaking, I'm referring to ghosts and Christmases in the plural, but it wasn't such a neat title.

I was reading a blog entry over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventureand it made me start thinking about my own childhood Christmas memories.

Mrs MB has frequently commented that I must have been built from a clone at age 12 as I have so few memories from before that age, but while thinking about this, it's apparent that I'm not, in fact, a clone as there are lots of little things I can remember.

I can recall me and my brothers harassing my parents with chants of "We want the decorations up" and actually making banners and parading around the house.

I can recall a TV advert for an alcoholic drink which Google tells me was a brand of advocaat. I shared a bedroom with two of my brothers, and in the nights leading up to Christmas we would frequently lay in bed, call out "Seagers Egg Flip" and have to turn over in bed, while bouncing at the same time (if you get what I mean). It must have driven my parents mad.

I remember putting the tree together. We always had an artificial tree, but it was like nothing you get today. The trunk and branches were wooden, with plastic needles. The trunk was in two parts, which screwed together and each branch had to be slotted into the trunk.

We had mainly paper decorations which became tattier with each passing year. Most famous was the large paper bell. This thing must have been 24 inches deep, and folded out from flat into a large (surprise!) bell shape. So pivotal was it to the yearly display, it ended up having it's own metal hook screwed into the ceiling of the living room.

We kids would make our own decorations out of strips of coloured paper which were looped, stuck and joined together. Can you still get those?

We never had stockings, or presents on our beds. Instead they were all kept downstairs in sacks. We weren't allowed into the living room until dad was ready, and he was infuriatingly (and, I'm sure, deliberately) slow. We also had to have breakfast first - though who wants to eat when there is a pile of presents waiting for you?

When we were younger, and finally allowed in, the present opening was finished in a matter of minutes and a mass of torn paper. I can vividly recall my first wristwatch, with its shiny blue face and blue fabric strap. As we grew older and calmed down (just slightly) we were made to open presents in turn, waiting and watching as each brother opened something. And occasionally Mum or Dad would get a present too - Dad always gave Mum a Terry's Chocolate Orange (amongst other things, of course).

Christmas Day was immediate family only. That meant Mum, Dad and four kids. Nobody else. Ever. As we grew older, girlfriends were acceptable but that was it. We never went out to visit others and nobody came to us. The occasional rare visitor was treated cordially but coolly. This was our day.

TV was forbidden. Absolutely without exception. The arrival of the VCR made that a little easier to bear, but it was never an issue (except the year we were given our first video game - an Atari VCS - but even that had to wait til Boxing Day to be played).

Christmas Dinner was never turkey - none of us liked it. It was most likely lamb - Dad's favourite. After dinner was the swapping of family presents, small tokens mainly. Then it was time for games - board games if there were any new ones. Dad - like most dads the world over - would insist on making up his own rules. I seriously doubt any game was successfully finished. Then the cards would come out - we would play Cribbage (yes, really!), or other games whose names escape me right now (to my shame). Bets were placed using pennies from the huge Whiskey bottle which stood perpetually in the dining room.

Tea was always just nibbles, though my mum never came to terms with "light" meals, and the table would have contained enough food for a major party.

After tea came "Tree presents", silly little gifts that Mum couldn't resist buying, and then we'd usually end up playing charades or something similar.

It all sounds so terribly twee and old-fashioned, but that's how it was and - I'm guessing - very much how all my brothers would probably choose to run their Christmas even now.

Certainly, my Christmases are now very different. The children storm through their present piles in minutes; we almost always have Dinner at the In-Laws; after dinner the TV is on while the kids (hopefully) entertain themselves and the adults slowly drink themselves to sleep...

I'm not complaining, of course. It's different, but not worse.

But the memories... the memories prove that I really was a kid once. Honest.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Down time

With the first edit-pass of book 2 now complete, it's off to the beta readers for their comments. This small, select group of readers will give feedback of varying levels - one will send back the ms fully marked up with any grammar or spelling errors as well as comments on continuity or flow. Another has already completed his first read-through and has given feedback, but doesn't really serve as a copy-editor - which isn't to belittle his input in any way.

The biggest question for me, is what to do with the time I now have on my hands? I'll wait for all the beta-readers to finish and give me corrections or comments before I do my own read-through, which leaves me a little lost.

Do I sit back and enjoy the rest (especially with Christmas just around the corner) or do I embark on the next step of the adventure? In other words, do I start another book?
And, if I do start another book, which one do I start? Do I start the next book in the series or, as was my original plan, go off and write something different, just for a change?

There is certainly no shortage of ideas. The "ideas tank" currently has about a dozen possibilities, just waiting for their moment in the sun, of which at least two are clamouring for my attention (and, if you add book 3 of the series, then there are 3 books calling out "Pick me, pick me!").

It's not an easy decision. What do you think?
Option 1: Sit back and wait for the beta readers. Relax.
Option 2: Start working on Book 3 of the series.
Option 3: Start working on something completely different.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Editing Process

The more observant amongst you (and those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook) will have noticed that the first draft of Book 2 (working title: Parallels) is now complete.

At 84,000 words it's a shade smaller than The Long Second, but I don't think it's a problem as it fits nicely into the most common word-count that everyone seems to be asking for at the moment. In fact, The Long Second comes in slightly high and I'm half-expecting to have to trim that down at some point (I hope not, but it's possible).

Now starts step 2 - the process that some authors seem to love and some hate: the editing.

I don't find it a chore at all, and that's mainly because of the way the book is written in the first place. To reiterate (for those of you who didn't pay attention the first time) "I" am a "we" - two people, working on this project together, under one name.

What that means is that as each chapter is written, it is passed to the other for checking - for grammar, spelling, plot inconsistencies etc. It's an excellent form of near-immediate feedback and I believe it helps to keep the story quite tight (as, indeed, was the exact comment about The Long Second when it was read by my agent). It also means that, when it comes to this point, there are (hopefully) no major, shout-out, "Oh My God!" moments of something that just doesn't fit. And, as an additional bonus, it means this phase is completed really quite quickly.

Despite having only finished writing Book 2 yesterday, the first pass of this editing is already about 10% complete, and at this rate will be finished within a week.

That doesn't necessarily mean the book is perfect, of course. The next step will be to send it out to a small number of beta-readers. Of these, one is very thorough and will pick up on any errors that have been missed so far, and one will provide valuable feedback on the overall quality of the story (and whether, or not, it's as good as/better/worse than The Long Second).

Once their feedback has been received and any errors corrected and suggestions acted upon, it will probably sit, untouched, for another week or so. As this nicely coincides with Christmas, that should mean a nice break in the run-up, and allows me to (basically) forget the story, so when I come to it again, it should feel reasonably fresh.

Phase 3, essentially the final read through will then take place and any further errors corrected.

Then, and only then, will it go to Lora for her to read. Target for that: first week of January.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


I've spent the last few days not writing. That's not entirely by choice, more by circumstances. Clearly, being able to post this, I still have access to the laptop, and the Internet has not fallen down in my absence.

So, what does a writer do when not actually writing? In my case, it's yearn to be back writing, if this week has been anything to go by.

I took a week off work with the noble intention of doing some house decorating, in an attempt to tidy things up for Christmas. It didn't start well.

On Saturday, the wallpaper steamer went missing, making the prospect of removing the paper from the girls' bedroom a little daunting. Calls to errant brother-in-law, usual culprit of such borrow-and-not-return shenanigans, were unanswered. He was finally tracked down on Sunday, and the much-travelled steamer miraculously reappeared.

Walls duly stripped, the task of painting the walls began. During the lead-up to the redecorating, the girls were allowed (foolishly) to scribble on their soon-to-be-removed wallpaper. Except, on one wall, the paper was already stripped which meant the wall was bare. Basecoat applied and various luminous blue and pink scribbles were peeking from beneath the paint.

Two coats later, and the drawings were still visible.

In the meanwhile, the bathroom was attacked. Ceiling paint quite literally fell from one side of the bathroom and resolutely refused to come down from the other side.

In a moment of madness, following a casually made "Ooh, that's a nice colour for a feature wall, don't you think?" comment, I decided to paint one wall of the living room - and move everything around in the process. I'm still not over the horrors I found hidden in the process. The arrival of the TV engineer during the move-around was expected, but surprisingly inconvenient, especially as the new equipment doesn't seem to working quite as well as expected.

Another coat of paint in the bedroom still hasn't covered the drawings.

The bathroom was de-moulded. The sticky valve in the kitchen tap replaced (and don't get me started on how difficult it was to find a replacement valve that fitted, and then suitable replacement tap handles. You know those companies with "plumb" in their name? You'd think they'd stock such basics as tap valves and handles, wouldn't you? Yes, me too.)

The bathroom ceiling was repainted - badly - and floor tiles removed. Another coat of paint in the bedroom. Drawings resolutely refuse to disappear.

The TV still isn't working properly. The living room is a disaster area, except for a small corner of sanity which only serves to remind me what the house should look like. The girls' bedroom is still unfinished, as the pictures haven't completely faded yet; as a result they are sleeping in our room while we sleep on the sofas downstairs. The bathroom needs at least another coat of the hideously difficult to apply ceiling paint and new flooring of some sort. Our bedroom, long bereft of wallpaper, waits patiently for attention. The hall and landing need a fresh coat of paint.

I think I might have taken on too much this week.

And Mrs MB comes home and says "You haven't done much, have you?"

I'd rather be writing.

Friday, 13 November 2009


There are about a million and one posts around the web that advise aspiring authors to make their manuscript as good as it can possibly be before submitting to agents - examples are Nathan, Nicola and Kristin. It's certainly sound advice.

When writing THE LONG SECOND, I was fortunate to have almost constant editing taking place, which meant that when the first draft was finished, it was already pretty solid and error-free (though not entirely). Because Marshall Buckley, the author, is a collaborative effort, every chapter that is written by one half of the partnership is read, checked, commented upon and corrected, usually within 24 hours. Working this way probably wouldn't suit everybody, but it works well for us. (And please forgive me for switching between I/me and us/we - it all amounts to the same thing really).

In addition, there are a number of Beta-Readers who also checked for plot failures and inconsistencies. As a result, THE LONG SECOND went through a total of three drafts, with drafts 2 and 3 really being only minor corrections (with the exception of one chapter which had a reasonably significant re-write).

When it came to submitting to agents, there was a reasonable level of confidence that the book was solid and presentable, and that confidence was rewarded when we signed up very quickly with Lora.

While discussing the state of the sequel, I asked whether she wanted to see an early draft or would prefer to wait for a more presentable copy - especially as I think this book is likely to require a slightly more heavy hand when it comes to the editing process. As expected, she told me she would wait for it to be in a "tighter state" before reading it. At the same time, she sent over a nice compliment:
"THE LONG SECOND was a pleasure to read precisely because it was already in a fairly advanced state... which helps immensely with first impressions".

Book 2 is now well over 75% complete, and the few hitches in the storyline are now resolving themselves nicely. It's all downhill from here. I expect the first draft will be complete by about the end of November/early December, with the final version ready sometime in January.

In other news... the HTC Hero is still here and working nicely, having spent the last few days trying to make it talk to the work email system (I won't bore you with the details). Oddly, my normal work phone (a dull but worthy Nokia) has just died. Strange coincidence.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Technology Geek Moment

All you non-techies might want to look away now.

I've been pondering getting some sort of SmartPhone (TM) for a while, just so I always have access to email where-ever I am - just in case anything important happens.

My preference has been for an iPhone. I already have an iPod touch, and that does a good job just as long as I'm in reach of wi-fi, but that's not always the case. Unfortunately, I'm struggling to justify the cost - especially when my day-job already supplies me with a perfectly workable phone (which I don't have to pay for).

My company uses Blackberrys (or should that be Blackberries?), but I have an slight aversion to them, and haven't requested one. They've just signed up with a new network provider and are evaluating various phones, and as one of the resident techies, I've had the chance to play with a couple of them.

Sadly, the directive from the top has said "No iPhones." Dammit.

So, we tried the HTC Touch Pro. And it was dreadful. Truly dreadful. Windows Mobile has a long way to catch up.

Now, we have the HTC Hero, and I've claimed it. It's much better than the Touch Pro, but it's no iPhone, but it shows promise. The Android O/S is still pretty new, and I think over time it will mature nicely. HTC's Sense Interface is pretty decent too - responsive, smooth and reasonably intuitive (most of the time).

As a phone for our business, I don't think it cuts it - especially up against the Blackberrys. It doesn't feel Enterprise Ready - unlike the iPhone which has stacks of documentation on how to intergrate and lock-it down.

But, it's OK. I like it, but I don't love it. If they let me keep it, I won't complain, but I'll still be thinking of the day I can justify grabbing myself an iPhone.

Oh, and if this sounds like I'm a bit of a Fanboy - I'm not especially. I don't believe Apple is the saviour of the Tech world, in the same way I don't believe Microsoft is the Devil incarnate. Right tools for the job and all that (Windows 7, by the way, is excellent - if you're in the market for a Windows upgrade).

On the writing front, I've had a lazy week as I've been reading more than I've been writing. As I mentioned last time, I read FIRE by Kristin Cashore and the recommendation still stands. I'm now reading Abigail Arrington's PRECESSION - more on that next time.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Another week? Already?

I'd like to say something like "doesn't time fly?" but, in reality, it doesn't, not when you're patiently waiting for something...

I tend to avoid posts which say "no news", any extended silences can probably be interpreted as saying just that. You can be sure that as soon as there is news, it'll be here. (It'll probably be on Twitter first, though!)

This week I have been:
1. Writing - about 5,000 words or so this week. Reasonable progress on book 2.
2. Reading - HEAVEN CAN WAIT by Cally Taylor and FIRE by Kristin Cashore.

I can honestly recommend HEAVEN CAN WAIT, though it's much more a book for the ladies than the gents, but if you're willing to be entertained then it's a very pleasant read. It's one of those books that (and I have to word this very carefully) is written in such a simple, straight-forward way, no attempts at being "clever" - and I mean all those in the complementary sense. It's no mean feat to write in such a way that doesn't require the reader to go off hunting for the dictionary every other page to check the definition of an obscure word.

That still feels like I'm somewhat damning it with praise. To put it into context, I should say that it's how I hope people will say that I write. It's the way Richard Laymon used to write, and the way that Christopher Brookmyre writes (my two favourite authors). I'm not averse to "clever" writing, complex plots, unusual phrasing etc. but there are lots of times when I just want to immerse myself into a story and let it wash over me, and that's not easy to do if the author is hell-bent on plucking archaic words from the lesser-thumbed pages of his dictionary.

I read HEAVEN CAN WAIT in two evenings. Thoroughly enjoyable, I recommend you grab yourself a copy.

As for FIRE: I haven't finished it yet. It is the follow-up/prequel to GRACELING, both of which have received excellent reviews. I enjoyed GRACELING but I have to say that FIRE has all the hallmarks of an author now into her stride, with the first novel out of the way, more confident in her ability. It feels much more "together" than GRACELING, more mature perhaps.

I should add, at this point, that Kristin is represented (in part) by Lora Fountain - and it was Lora that recommended her books to me. But, I'm more than happy to echo that recommendation.

Next on the list is PRECESSION by my new Twitter friend Abigail Arrington, who is kindly sending me a signed copy (I paid for it, I'm no free-loader!). I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Book Buying Day

Today is payday (in my non-writing world) which means a visit to Borders to pick up some new reading.

Having made a number of new friends (if you can use the term so loosely) online via Twitter, many of whom have recently published new books, it seems right to support them and buy their books, even though some are not exactly my usual reading material. That's not a problem, though, as the couple I picked up today have received good reviews.

Of course, finding the books is not always easy. Of the three I went looking for, I found one. The second required a visit to 3 stores, and had to be dug out of a box in the back (it had only just arrived). The third only seems to be available online, so I'll have to wait a couple of weeks for that one.

I'm looking forward to reading all three, knowing that I have a connection with the authors is going to make them a little more special, I think.

I'll share my thoughts when I've finished them.

Friday, 16 October 2009

So, what's it all about, then?

It occured to me today that, despite all my waffle here, and various people being very encouraging and even saying how much they are looking forward to reading THE LONG SECOND when (if?) it gets published, I've actually spoken very little about the book itself.

In sharing this now, I'm aware that it may sound a little presumptuous. There is still every chance that THE LONG SECOND will not get published. If that's the case, then I'm going to look pretty foolish and possibly even a little full of myself for thinking that a first attempt could be considered good enough. On the other hand, if it does get published then, well, you heard about it here first!

When I sat down to write the synopsis and query letter for THE LONG SECOND the most difficult part was choosing the genre in which it should be placed. Thankfully, Lora (our agent) disagreed with our specified Soft Sci-Fi and calls it "a contemporary tale of family interaction, greed, responsibility and redemption".

Our original query letter didn't sell the book very well - though it was good enough to pique Lora's interest. The revised one does a better job, I think, though it never actually got sent to anyone. That's a shame in a way, so I thought I'd share it here.

How many times, as a child, did you play the game of wishing you had a Super-Power? What did you choose? Did you want to fly, or become invisible, or turn things to ice? These are the thoughts that Tony Cole uses to help him get through the day doing to most boring job in the world (a job he loves precisely because it allows him to think these things). Tony's preference is to be invisible, though, if he's honest, his reasons are a little seedy. You can imagine his surprise when he notices a small anomaly in time and stumbles upon the ability to time-travel.

What could you do with such an ability? Still hungry? Go back in time and have breakfast again. Left your mobile at work? Go back in time and remember to pick it up. Smashed your girlfriend's mirror? Go back in time and move it away from the edge of the cabinet. Your brother kills himself and an innocent woman while drink-driving following a confrontation with you because you've discovered he's having an affair with your girlfriend? Saving the woman is easy, but does your brother deserve to be saved?

There are rules that have to be followed if you want to play with time; they're not always obvious, and can have some interesting consequences, as Tony discovers while trying to solve all his family's many problems. But Tony is a good man at heart, and if he's lucky he might even end up with the girl of his dreams, but he's going to have to work hard to get there.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Frankfurt Book Fair

It seems that the Frankfurt Book Fair has finally arrived. I've been watching various Tweets over the past couple of days and have been surprised how much has been going on, behind the scenes, before the fair even opens.

It made me wonder just how much actually happens at the fair itself, and how much just happens because so many of the right people are in the same place at the same time.

I guess it's a little of both.

Of course, for me, the arrival of the fair just means that it will soon be over, and hopefully some news will come our way. I'm certainly not expecting anything to happen with THE LONG SECOND at the fair (although I'd be delighted to be proved wrong), but I'm hoping that when all the hangovers have receded and various editors find themselves back at their desks come Monday, maybe normal service will be resumed. Whatever that is.

In other news... Book 2 continues to progress. There was a nice moment late last week when the second half of the book seemed to come into focus for a while and many words were written, then rewritten, then rewritten again. Sadly, the momentum got a little lost somewhere in those rewrites, and suddenly it's mired in the gloom once more, waiting for another little ray of sunshine to re-illuminate the storyline (enough metaphors?).

And as for Twitter... suddenly the cynic in me has discovered a use for it. So, a big hello to all my followers and followees (is that a real word?), and a big thank you to Nicola (who, I promise, I'm not really stalking) for enlightening me on the power of 140 characters.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Good Moments

I was reminded today while reading the Blog of Cally Taylor that I'd intended to write about all the great things that happened along the way to getting this (these) book(s) published. While publication is still elusive (but fingers are still crossed), securing agent representation was certainly a major step along the road.

When I met Lora, and we agreed to work together, I was a little reluctant to go into too much detail - as Cally says, there is the fear of jinxing the whole thing if you get too excited.

But, a month down the line, with representation contract signed, and the manuscript of THE LONG SECOND out at (at last count) 5 publishers, I think it's okay to go into a little more detail about what happened on September 5th.

Lora invited me to meet her at The Groucho Club and I took great delight in putting the telephone number of the club in my mobile (in case I was delayed) and showing it to anyone who cared to listen. Not that, to my amazement, many people knew what The Groucho Club was (way to rain on my parade).

On arrival, I walked past it twice. I was expecting at least some sort of sign above the door, but, of course, it's much more subtle that that. Having pressed the bell I waited for a response, assuming the club was upstairs. After a moment I noticed the two receptionists waving at me over to my left. Strike one.

I pulled the door. It didn't open. I assumed it was still locked. They gestured for me to push it. Strike two.

Smiling sweetly (I hope) I professed that I was new here... as if they didn't know, but announced I was there to meet Lora.

There reply was one of those little moments: "Yes, we're expecting you, she'll be with you shortly." They were expecting me!

Lora arrived shortly afterwards. She was exactly as I expected her to be - how often does that happen? (Lora: If you're reading this, this is a good thing!)

We dispensed with the small talk, over a glass of wine for me and... something else for her (I think I can be forgiven for not catching what her tipple was, I was a little nervous), and she quickly made it clear that she was offering representation. I, of course, played it cool and said that it was only reasonable that I be given time to think about it, while all the time grinning like a village idiot.

I think it may have been that grin that gave it away. Was I going to accept? Of course...

She told me (and this is another one of those moments) that she "loved" THE LONG SECOND. She loved it! It's one thing for all your friends and family to tell you how good your book is but, lovely though that is, it counts for nothing. When a complete stranger (for that's what she was, really) who works in the industry tells you the same thing well, I think it's enough to bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened man. And I'm not the most hardened man. Not that I cried, of course.

We spent what can only be described as a very enjoyable two hours together; two hours that felt like I was in the company of an old friend. We talked about the book, and the series, and we talked about other totally unrelated things - just getting to know us. Honestly, I could have talked all afternoon, and I don't do small talk easily.

When we parted, I did my best to walk down the street as calmly as I could. Only when I rounded the corner, out of sight, did I reach for the mobile and send one of the best texts ever: "It's really happening.". I may have used slightly stronger language that than.

And so began the next part of the journey. I'm looking forward to meeting Lora again in a month or so, and hoping that, by then, we'll have even more exciting news to share. It may not happen, but I'm very hopeful.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Coffee Time

In association with Nicola Morgan (and lots of others, I hope), I'd like to invite you to put your feet up, grab yourself a mug of coffee or tea, and help yourself to a cake (if you want one of my doughnuts you'll have to come and get them, I'm afraid, and there aren't many left).

Give yourself 15 minutes. You deserve it.

To help you pass the time, I've written a short story. I hope you like it. If you do (or even if you don't), please consider donating to Macmillan Cancer Relief - even just a couple of pounds will be welcomed, I'm sure.

(If you're reading this in North America, for "boot" read "trunk").


The attack came out of nowhere. No shouted warnings, no rush of feet pounding the ground, just a sudden darkness as the hessian sack was placed over my head, my arms were pulled roughly behind my back and I was marched, unceremoniously, down the path. My feeble attempts at resistance were quickly, and authoritatively, quelled.
I wasn’t taken far. I heard the chirp of a car being unlocked remotely and the tiniest of creaks as the door was opened. Except it wasn’t a door as I discovered when I was lifted off my feet and dumped into the boot. I had no time to catch my breath before the boot-lid was slammed down above me and the blackness became more complete.
My hands had been tied while I was walking and I managed to appreciate the skill of my captor in doing that so quickly. The binding wasn’t especially tight, though, and I felt confident that with a little work I would be able to remove the rope and, subsequently, the smelly sack from my head.
But then what? Why was I here? Where were they taking me? Was there enough air in here? I tried to be calm but I knew I was breathing too quickly, my heart pounding in my chest and I could feel the sweat on my brow and the palms of my hands.
The car had started and was driven slowly away, apparently trying to avoid acting suspiciously. I could hear no voices, but they may have been drowned by the music playing loudly. The bass echoed in the confined space in which I was trapped.
I felt every bump, every hole in the road. Even the cats-eyes caused the suspension to judder more than I’d ever realised; with no sprung seat beneath me I felt every jolt.
It was impossible to gauge what direction we were taking. I tried to work out which way we turned by the lean of the car, but after so many turnings I lost my bearings. We could have been travelling in a rough circle, or figure of eight, for all I knew.
With no idea how long I was likely to be trapped here, I tried to formulate some sort of escape plan. Clearly, so long as we were moving, the option of simply crying out for help was not viable. I would have to wait for the car to come to a stop.
In the meantime, I'd managed to free my hands and I removed the sack from my head – though it made little difference to what I could see. There was a small red glow from the taillights; if I concentrated I could just about see my hand in front of my face, but no more.
I felt around inside the boot, hoping to find a tool set or something that might help, but it seemed they had thought of that and I found nothing, no wrench, no wheel brace. Even the spare wheel was missing - they had clearly planned this carefully.
Then I remembered my phone. My trusty iPhone. Not only would I be able to call for help, but I’d be able to work out where I was, thanks to the mapping application. I reached into my trouser pocket and felt a huge wave of relief when my hand closed around the familiar cold metal of the casing.
I switched it on and waited for it to start up. Where is the phone application? Why can I not call any of the contacts? And why is my contact list suddenly so short?
The answer, when it occurred to me, was devastating. This was not my iPhone, instead I had picked up my daughter’s iPod. Identical in every way except… well, no phone application. The iPod had the same map application, but with no phone signal it had no way of knowing where I was. I searched, more in desperation than hope, for a wi-fi signal but there were none in range. The iPod was reduced to little more than a dim light in the blackness of my new prison.
I failed to keep track of time, resigned to being stuck here until such time as my captors deemed it necessary to stop. It could have been five minutes or five hours for all I knew. I even managed to doze for a time, the motion of the car and the darkness proving to be surprisingly soporific.
I was woken by the sensation of the car stopping, gently, no commotion, no screaming brakes. I heard the driver and passenger get out and slam their doors, and the chirp as the doors locked. With the music now silenced I could hear them talking outside the car, but their voices were low and I could not pick up any of the conversation. After a few moments their voices fell silent and I heard them walk away.
I listened carefully for any other sounds, but heard none. It was as if they had abandoned me in the middle of nowhere. There were no sounds of cars, no voices, no footsteps, just absolute silence. With the lights of the car switched off the boot was absolutely black, no light at all seeped in. The light on the iPod helped a little, but with nothing to see anyway it seemed a somewhat pointless exercise, and I felt I should save the battery in case I needed it for anything later.
I tried calling out and kicking my feet against the boot-lid, I made plenty of noise but there were no replies and in the end I just lay there in the silence, waiting for whatever destiny had in store for me, unable to understand how I could have found myself in this situation. I had never, to my knowledge, crossed anybody, never found myself in a fight, barely even raised my voice in anger. I was known to everybody for my even temper and unassuming manner. I had a large circle of friends and, I was sure, no enemies.
But a man doesn’t end up locked inside the boot of a car if he has no enemies. Perhaps it had been a case of mistaken identity, but that would be of no help if I wasn’t given any time to talk to them. I had visions of television programmes where the boot is opened and a gun fired with no questions being asked, the unfortunate victim being left in a pool of blood.
Unless… No, it couldn’t be that. Nobody knew about that. It was years ago; I’d left that life behind; I was no longer that person. I’d changed. The thought made my stomach churn and I felt the bile rise in my throat and felt short of breath as if the air really was running out. My skin prickled and my legs, already uncomfortable from the confinement, began to shake. This really could be the end, I could be that body laying in a pool of blood. If somebody had found out…
I resolved that this would not be my fate. Although cramped, the boot did allow me some space to move around. I found, with some effort, that I could lie on my back with my feet above me, pressed against the boot lid. It was uncomfortable to stay in that position, though, so instead I practiced moving into that position quickly, aware that I would only have a fraction of a second to use to my advantage – assuming I had sufficient warning of their arrival to actually act.
I needn’t have worried. Their approach was loud. They were clearly unconcerned about being heard, either by me or any casual passers-by, which only reinforced my belief that we were in some remote location, away from the risk of being seen by anybody. They were speaking more loudly now, loudly enough for me to determine that it was two men, but their footsteps once again made it impossible for me to understand anything but the occasional word. They even laughed at one point, at that seemed as if they were taunting me.
I positioned myself as planned, hoping that the one who opened the boot would do so directly in line with the lock, for that was where I planted my feet. I planned to kick out with all my strength as soon as the lid was opened, hoping to strike with both feet, preferably into his face or, at the very least, into his chest, sending him off balance.
That would be all I had in my favour: the element of surprise. I knew that the other man could have a weapon, and he could well discharge it before I had time to do anything else, so I counted on him being so surprised by the ferocity of my attack that I would gain valuable seconds, but it still depended on me being able to extract myself from the boot quickly, and I had serious doubts about my ability to do so, and cursed my lack of fitness and unwillingness to take any exercise.
Once again I heard the chirp of the doors being unlocked, and could hear that one of them was standing right in front of the boot. I braced myself, arms tensed, hands flat to the floor ready to put as much power as possible into the strike. I held my breath and waited.
The boot-lid sprang open and I was shocked by the amount of light that leaped in, but I ignored it and kicked out with both legs, using all my reserves of strength. I heard the satisfying yet sickening crack as my heel connected and saw his head thrown backwards, blood already pouring from his face and he staggered away.
I screamed in rage, ready to take on my other kidnapper, my own scream drowning out the shouts of the many, many people gathered around, the familiarity of their faces registering too slowly as I saw all their expressions change from happiness to shock and far too late heard their words as they died in the wind.
“Happy Birthda…”

For Sylv, Derrick and Waveney (Eileen)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

They really do make my head hurt

I have never ‘blogged’ before now, this is my first blog, first and hopefully not my last!

I am a little nervous!

Anyway here goes - ages ago, I mentioned that I would offer my part of this experience, but up until now, have not had the time….yes yes, I know, we’re all busy eh!

Okay, I had a major family blow back in January 2004, I lost my father to the ‘BIG C’, and that’s enough about that, anyway, it got me thinking about the things that come to us all and how it actually works, and from this thought process, our first book series developed.

I always said, I am NOT a creative, and I am really not, but sometimes, through natural thought processes, ideas blossom to where questions need to be asked, questions that actually make my head hurt even thinking about them (they really do make my head hurt), throwing me into confusion and having to draw myself away from these thought processes because of the worry they will make my brain shut down.

Anyway, sometimes the answers to these difficult questions are not forthcoming, they just generate more thoughts. When a ‘non-creative’s’ mind is bursting with ideas, there needs to be an outlet, this outlet is the very talented writer that is Phil Marshall, so when we had a chat about ‘I want to write a book, will you write it?’, Phil offered his time and between us, we have one book under our belt, the second in the series is one third finished and a project plan for the remaining books in this particular series is done and sound.

My problem now though, is I am bombarding Phil with ideas about 'other' books, which I know are good sound stories, and not the same either, I think it’s important not to be predictable, so yes, we will finish this series, I hope by this time next year and I am excited about getting other questions, questions that make my head hurt answered.

Oh yeah, about that, between us, the dialogue (generally by email or MSN), has answered the questions that made my head hurt initially, so the moral to this is, anything you can’t resolve yourself….just talk it through with a friend, maybe they’ll write a book about it, as if you need the answer, then there will be 10,000,000 others out there wanting the same question answered. And trust me, these answers are not on WIKI!

*Note to self, stop using exclamation marks!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Advanced Notice

I plan to be joining (online) the quite lovely, very entertaining and not in the least bit "crabbit", as far as I can tell (no matter what she claims), Nicola Morgan for the Macmillan Coffee Morning this coming Friday.

For starters, it's a good cause, close to my heart and many others, I'm sure.

Secondly, she's offering the chance for a shameless blog plug. I don't know how that's going to work quite yet, but I'm interested nonetheless.

That gives me three days to come up with something interesting to post here...

(Ideas update: The ideas continue to flood in. Two more solid ideas in as many days).
(Book update: 3000 words on Sunday/Monday, just to make up for the lack of effort last week).

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Another Week

I've just realised that it's been a week since I added anything to the writing of Book 2. That's not a major issue as I don't stick to any specific schedule; I don't torture myself by sitting in front of the PC and forcing the words to come - I tried that on Book 1 and it didn't work.

This week I've just been a little busy on other things. Nothing major, but I've just not found any time for writing. I have found time for reading, though, so I haven't been completely unproductive. I've read elsewhere that it's a common problem that many writers don't have time to read, so I'm actively trying to avoid that.

I've been reading a mixture of things though, as can be seen by the reading list on the right. Some of it is YA, which is only because they are lying around when my daughter reads them (or forgets about them). I'm pretty certain I won't ever write YA, but it doesn't hurt to see what others are up to.

I've also been catching up on some classics, courtesy of the free downloads at E-Reader, and have been reading them on my iPod. I found myself hugely enjoying THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (which ought not be a surprise), and also enjoyed WHITE FANG much more than THE CALL OF THE WILD. I've a few more to try, but a couple I've struggled to get into, so will leave those for now (and won't admit here to which they are).

Although not actively writing, it's not been a completely unproductive week. There have been numerous emails flying about concerning aspects of Book 3, firming up some plot details as well as picturing who you can see in certain roles (should it ever make it onto film - there's nothing like having ambition, eh?)

In addition to Book 3, there have been 3 (count 'em!) ideas for completely unrelated novels. These are still, naturally, sketchy and might not amount to anything. Gut feeling, though, is at least one, probably two, will turn into a great idea. The other will probably fall by the wayside, or it might remain on the "possible" pile for a few years.

So, with 4 books planned in THE LONG SECOND series, at least 2 in the next series (referred to as LMS here), plus 3 possible ideas, the writing isn't going to actually stop anytime soon.

And I'll probably be writing more on Book 2 tonight... time permitting.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Sound of Silence

I've already spoken of the waiting game - that interminable time between submitting to anyone (be that agent or publisher) and waiting for a reply.

I've been reading of writers who become upset when they receive a form-letter rejection, but to these people I have to say that the knowing is better than the not-knowing. While the old adage of "No news is good news" may well apply in many cases, given that it does actually take time to read a book, there's a lot to be said for a quick, straight-forward, no messing "No thanks".

Which isn't to say that we're only expecting to receive declinations, and is also by no means indicative of any level of impatience. What the last few months have really taught me is that what seems like a long time now doesn't seem so long in hindsight. To have gone from a very loose idea of what a book could be about, to having that completed manuscript being submitted by your agent to multiple publishers in 6 months (and today marks exactly 6 months that the seed of that idea was first planted) is, frankly, astonishing.

But the waiting doesn't get any easier. Nor does it get any easier to explain the lack of response to family and friends, many of whom, I'm sure, see silence as roughly equivalent to rejection.

We are only 10 days into having representation, though that already seems like a lifetime ago, and even if all the editors concerned received the manuscript within a couple of days they are unlikely to have read it yet. If they have, and they want to take it further, then they have to raise the proposal internally. Only on successful completion of that are we likely to hear anything, and that could be weeks away.

But I still jump up in hope every time I receive an email alert.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Tiny steps, giant leap.

Yesterday was interesting.

In reality, it was always going to be positive. It would have been a pretty cruel trick to have been invited for a meeting only to be told "Please, for the good of everybody, never write again", and I was reasonably confident that the writing wasn't that bad.

In the event, the offer of representation was made almost immediately. Worldwide. On top of that, two publishers have already been approached and have expressed an interest based solely upon the basic synopsis that was given to them. There are two others which are also a good fit, and will be approached immediately too (at least I'm fairly certain that's what she said).

And so the next step of the Waiting Game begins. In truth, we've come this far pretty quickly, but I think it's been a lot more about luck than anything else. I'm certainly not claiming for one moment that we've reached this stage so quickly because of an astounding talent that only a fool would fail to see. That doesn't mean that the short periods we've had to wait have been anything other than torturous, though, and this next period of waiting is going to be equally as nail-biting.

We're hoping to have the website up and running soon, so you'll be able to get a flavour of the story. We'll keep you posted on that one.

Friday, 4 September 2009

On The Cusp

One day to go to the "big meeting", which is really only a "chat", but it's hard not to get excited and think about the possibilities.

Very little has happened over the past two weeks, though that's not unexpected - it just falls into the category of "waiting".

Of course, waiting time can be productive too. It's a foolish writer who sits around and does nothing in these times. My daughter asked why I was writing another book when I hadn't sold/published the first one yet - but she's 10, so can be forgiven for not understanding the whole process.

Book 2 is progressing nicely, though a fairly significant plot change meant the scrapping of about 6000 words. It was surprisingly painless to do that - something which I think I found harder during the first book where every written word seemed to be precious, and deleting anything felt rather personal. You do get over that - you have to - and it's better to accept it now than find yourself in a battle with an editor because you refuse to believe his requested changes are going to improve on your masterpiece. But I'm getting ahead of myself, making assumptions, thinking about the possibilties...

More updates tomorrow, when I return. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Little Things

It's the small things that give you the warm fuzzy feelings, and make you think that maybe, just maybe, this might actually get some where.

We've just received a very short note from our prospective agent. She's just completed reading the full manuscript and said:
"I loved it."

(There were a few more words, but that's fundamentally it - and that is a direct quote.)

That guarantees nothing, of course, but it's good to think that if she enjoyed it, there's a fair chance that she'll know exactly which editors are likely to feel the same, which naturally increases the chances of getting it published.

Exciting times.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Waiting Game

Anyone who has ever submitted a manuscript, synopsis or query letter to an agent or publisher will be familiar with The Waiting Game.

While the advent of email queries to agents has obviously improved the overall response time from those agents who have embraced technology (though, to be honest, this just seems to allow them to send a rejection note faster) it doesn't seem to have changed much else.

It soon becomes a matter of course to expect to have to wait four to eight weeks to hear anything back. It's easy to forget that while your manuscript might be the only thing on your mind, the agent/publisher almost certainly has an enormous (virtual) pile to sift through.

Not that it makes it any easier. There's an old adage that 'no news is good news', and I suppose that could apply quite nicely in respect of the agents known for issuing fast rejections -if they don't reject you within a couple of days then it's no unreasonable to assume they are at least slightly interested in what you have to offer.

For us, we've played the waiting game with one publisher who promised a response but has now gone completely silent on us; we're still playing it with one agent who we probably have to wait another couple of weeks before we can follow up with a gentle "any news?" query; and, of course, we're still playing it with our first prospective agent, though in this case it's a case of waiting for the meeting date to arrive.

It's good practice, though, because we know that when (not if!) the book gets taken on by an agent, we'll then have to play the same waiting game while they submit it to publishers, and then the same game again and again through the whole publishing process.

Nothing happens overnight in publishing. It's as well to accept that right from the start - and probably good to set the expectations of family (and friends, if they are interested) because otherwise the constant questions of "Heard anything yet?" might soon become tiresome. (As yet, it hasn't become tiresome as it's still a pleasure that they're showing an interest. Whether that interest will still be there 12 months from now is another matter).

In other news... book two is progressing, if not at a pace, then at least at a gentle stroll. Early estimates of a September completion are now looking a little optimistic, but October shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility. I'm already being asked by previous proof-readers when the next installment will be available, which is encouraging.

Monday, 17 August 2009

This means nothing... probably

News just in... one of the first agents we contacted, who asked for the full manuscript has requested a meeting.

She hasn't completed reading yet, but expects to soon; the fact that she still wants to meet after reading the first couple of chapters is a good sign, I hope.

I'm reluctant to say much more at this stage for fear of jeopardising anything, but further updates will be posted here, of course.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Queries and Standards

Surprisingly, for one like me who likes to do things "right", I hadn't actually taken the time to check how agents want the manuscript formatted. Sure, I knew all about the double-spaced thing. Everyone knows that, right?

There's more. Even in these computer-centric days, it seems Courier is still the preferred font. It's not pretty, it's not even a proportional font, but I guess if that's what you're used to seeing then everything else will look alien, and it's another example of giving what they want, not want you want.

So I've just spent the last hour reformatting the book to fit these guidelines. It might make no difference, but if it goes in front of an agent who has a simple filtering procedure - wrong font, discard - then at least it should pass that test.

And while we're on the subject of making an impression, a quick word on the Query letter. Considering I've just written 600 plus pages of the book, you'd think putting together a single page summary would be pretty straight-forward. Far from it. Apart from the challenge of condensing 115,000 words into less than 1,000 it needs to be something that also passes the "first glance" test.

Until now, all the queries have been formal and polite, business-like. That method hasn't been a complete failure, we have had some responses and are waiting to hear back from these people, but the more I look around, the more I realise that this is a case of having to make that first impression really stand out, and as we all know, you only have one chance to make a first impression.

So,with that in mind, the query letter had been completely rewritten. Of course, it still contains all the factual information (page count, etc.) but in a more "grab you by the scruff of your neck and demand attention" kind of way. At least, I hope that's what it does.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I'll be doing some more submissions this weekend, we'll see what comes of them.


Welcome to the Blog. I hope to describe all the effort that's required to get a novel published once you've finished what you thought was the hardest part - namely writing the damn thing.

A little introduction. I'm a bit of a split personality - Marshall Buckley is two people, divided by 2,500 miles but united by one idea: to have a book published. I won't go into the details of who we are, that's largely irrelevant (and can be found elsewhere, if you're that interested, it's no secret).

In March 2009 the most basic idea was raised for the first novel - called The Long Second. After a surprisingly short amount of time - about 2 months - it was finished, apart from proof-reading, editting and polishing, of course. It runs to about 115,000 words and is a Sci-Fi novel with themes of Time-Travel but in the current world.

With the writing complete, the search for an agent or publisher began, and this is where it gets tough. You might, like me, have never really come across anybody who has written a book. Sure, you almost definitely know a whole host of people who plan to write one sometime, but most of those people will never actually get around to it. Actually, I thought I was going to be one of those people too, I'd certainly started a few but had trashed them when I realised how bad they were.

The Long Second isn't like that. It's good. Of course, I'm a little biased, but I've had enough people tell me that - people with no inherent need to be nice, people who could have pretended to have liked it but have actually really enthused about it and discussed their favourite parts - to actually believe it. Of course, these people have no relevance in the grand scheme of things, you don't go to an agent and say "I've had 10 independent people tell me it's good" - that would be too easy.

As I was saying, with no reference point, nobody who'd been there before, you really have to make it up as you go along (a bit like the writing part, I suppose). Sure, there's plenty of research on the Internet, you can find agents and publishers, learn what makes a good query letter and synopsis, even get some replies from prospective agent, but if you think, for even a moment, that it's a walk in the park, think again.

We were slightly lucky in having some contacts to get us started and mistakenly thought that would be all we needed. So far, that hasn't been the case.

So, in this blog, from here on in, I'm going to update when anything happens - when I send queries, when I get replies or rejections, when I find interesting information (and where) and - hopefully - when I finally get an acceptance and an offer.

Hold on to your hats. It could well be a long, scary, bumpy ride.