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Friday, 31 August 2012

Modern iconic architecture in the WIP


Most large scale modern architecture does not appeal to me
; it's too big, too in-your-face and lacks manners towards neighbouring buildings. Often boringly simple, too; I'm prejudiced against the sort of building you can take in at one glance. Try doing that with St Paul's, or the Palace of Westminster; there's too much subtlety of form and wealth of decoration. But in Ice Diaries, the novel I'm currently two thirds through writing, London is covered in twenty metres of snow from which only the tallest buildings emerge, and they are almost exclusively new buildings. 

  • B├ęzier: This is a luxury block of flats on Old Street roundabout where my heroine, Tory, lives. Her flat is at snow level on the tenth floor. It's a distinctive building shaped like two half barrels. The manager very kindly showed me round, which was useful.
  • The Gherkin: I'm quite fond of the Gherkin. It's an interesting addition to London's skyline, though it's now disappearing behind the tedious rectangular blocks of more recent even taller buildings. It has an innovative double skin that makes it extremely energy-efficient. My cage fighter hero hides his snowmobile there.
  • The Barbican: brutalist sixties concrete, for a while the tallest residential blocks in Europe, built on an area bombed to rubble by the Germans in WW2. An historical part of London where Pepys once bought a table, it's a great loss to the City. The Barbican's layout is so maze-like it's unwise to try to cut across it. Beth Two in Replica was chased through the Barbican by MI5. In Ice Diaries, Tory and Morgan go to a ceilidh there in Shakespeare Tower.
  • Strata: also known locally as Isengard or the Razor, this is a 43 storey block of flats of supreme ugliness at the Elephant and Castle on the south side of the Thames. It won the Carbuncle Award 2010 for 'the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last twelve months'. It has three wind turbines on top. In my novel, this enables the commune living there to have electricity.
I feel the novel really should include the Shard, for the sake of completeness. But, unless the end of my book surprises me, its only appearance will be on the cover. (I've just redone the cover, and am as pleased as Punch and Judy with it.)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Problems with guns

In the post-apocalyptic world of my WIP, the villain wants to get hold of a gun. With no police or legal system, a man with a gun is top dog and can get away with murder. So I did some research on guns. 

London's Metropolitan Police authorized firearms officers use Glock 17s. As my novel is set in London, that's the most likely gun to be available. A Glock 17 is semi-automatic, and has seventeen cartridges in the standard magazine. They are extremely reliable and don't go off if dropped. Pulling the trigger deactivates the safety catches. Fine so far. Then I did more research (so easy with Google - writers are spoiled these days).

When a gun is fired, the noise is 140 - 160 decibels. Loud enough for one shot to permanently damage the hearing of the firer and anyone close by. (A silencer will bring that down to 120 - 130, not actually all that silent as it is in movies.) I found some worrying forums where young men had fired a friend's gun a few times and were asking whether the tinnitus and muffled hearing they now experienced would ever go away. Watch any action film, and you can understand why people don't realize the danger; heroes without ear muffs/plugs shoot away like mad, are shot at, then don't spend the rest of the film with most of their dialogue consisting of, What was that you just said?

I also discovered that you need hearing protection if you are going to spend more than fifteen minutes on a snowmobile (100 decibels). My characters do that. So I have a choice between irresponsibly promulgating the idea that guns and sleds don't require earplugs, or holding up the action with a Health and Safety message. 

Rats.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Looking back on two years as an indie author

Two years ago today I self-published my first book, Remix. It was a book I felt sure was publishable, so I'd wasted spent a year attempting to find an agent, confident of success. As those of you who hang on my every word will know, I got close but no cigar. So I decided to go it alone.

Two years on, I've self-published four novels and a collection of short stories, and sold 58,648 ebooks, plus some paperbacks. I sold more books the first year, but made more money the second - much more money than a publisher would have been likely to offer me. I still own all the rights to my work, and all the profits come straight to me without an agent's deductions or a publisher's delay (mwahahahahaha).

Even better, I know from readers' reviews and emails that my books have entertained quite a lot of people for a few hours, and a writer can't ask for more than that. I now know that if I write a book that I think is good, a proportion of readers are likely to agree with me.

There have been huge changes in the publishing industry in those two years, and it's still changing. Self-publishing has gone from being the province of the deluded to the best way to reach readers for all but top-earning established authors. A considerable number of authors have had mega-success, the most recent I've noticed being Hugh Howey and Nick Spalding, while many are enjoying more modest rewards that would have been unimaginable two years ago. 

Writers like me, rejected by traditional publishing, have no reason to love it; but it's interesting that most of the grumbling and criticism is coming the other way, from publishers, agents and legacy authors who feel threatened by this unruly mob of indies who had the temerity to succeed when by everything they have ever believed, we should have failed miserably.

I like success. I'm impressed by anyone who can get a traditional publishing deal in these hard times. I'm also impressed by anyone who does well self-publishing. I can't wait to see how the next two years work out.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A thought on easy reads

One remark people often make about my books is that they are an easy read. Discerning readers mark me up for this, realizing that there is no virtue in a book being difficult - that doesn't make it clever or deep, it's just a sign of bad writing.

Who wants confusing paragraphs you have to reread to get the sense of, or dialogue where it's not clear who is speaking, or passages where you are not certain what is going on? Good prose becomes invisible, and never stands between the reader and the story.

I spend a lot of time going over my books as I write, tweaking and improving, adding bits and changing words, thinking about the characters. As well as clarity, this adds depth and detail that makes for a more rewarding read. I'm doing it now with Ice Diaries, the WIP. (I know some schools of thought maintain an author should plough straight through the first draft, never looking back until it is complete; but in my opinion the only rules worth abiding by are those for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Otherwise, I believe in doing whatever works for you.)

So I don't get irked when a reader races through one of my books and assumes it was as easy for me to write as for her to read. I take it as a huge compliment.