Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The SECOND worst problem for Writers (after Writers' block)...

If there’s one major problem for writers – second only to Writers' Block  – it has to be BACK ACHE.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I’m lucky that I’ve rarely been troubled by the former, but my back is now KILLING me! I was very naughty when I started writing my latest novel. Perhaps, if I’d suffered from more bouts of procrastination, I would have got up from the desk more often – but no, for the entire eight weeks of that first draft, I was practically glued to my chair.

Now I’m paying the price. But, at least I’ve learnt my lesson. Now, every day – I do stretches. I’ve always been a fan of Yoga and Pilates’ exercises, so I do these too – in short bursts when I’m boiling the kettle or making lunch. I know I should stop and go for a walk, I know I should take time out for a game of tennis in the local park – but when I’m in the thick of getting a story down – it’s unthinkable.

The answer, I’ve discovered, is not the Perfect Chair. No matter how fabulously comfy a chair may be, it makes you sit still – and it’s the sitting still that causes the problems. I’ve tried the Swedish kneelers too, but apparently you can develop poor posture using those and it’s not great for the knees.

As no expert in the area of back complaints, and assuming that there will be others out there who share this plight, I thought I’d pass on this site by Paul Ingraham, which I’ve found useful:

These aren’t pretty, but they do work (and you can do them at your desk!):

Image courtesy of Paul Ingraham

I also like this one  - and you get to hug yourself, too!

Image courtesy of Paul Ingraham
Okay – now back to my edits…
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Book Titles that Grab

Following my recent blog about the Image on a book cover, I thought I'd look at Titles.

The title of a book, (backed up by the image on the cover), gives us our first impression of the novel. Those two or three seconds when a reader’s eyes fall on the cover are crucial – the title needs to grab our attention, generate intrigue and compel us to take a closer look.

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding was initially entitled Strangers from Within and was rejected by at least ten publishers before it was finally accepted for publication in 1954, by the young editor Charles Monteith at Faber and Faber.

The editor's note (below, in green pen) says 'Rubbish and dull. Pointless'.
Golding's original rejection letter - Faber Books on flickr

Monteith spotted the potential of the novel and initiated the change of title, and in my opinion, I think the new one is a stroke of genius; it’s instantly visual, striking and sinister to boot. It is said to be a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub, literally meaning "Lord of Flies", a name often used as a synonym for Satan. It may also be a reference to a line from King Lear - "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods — They kill us for their sport". (King Lear Act IV, Scene 1). Personally, I think the earlier cover version for it (below) is far better than the current one.

As a writer, finding a title early in the writing process gives me an instant focus. Strangely, it makes me feel that the book already exists on some level and merely needs to be brought out into the light. My titles are often changed later and that’s fine by me – at times the original words may have personal meaning for me, but insufficient ‘global’ resonance.

Penny Hancock, author of the psychological thriller, Tideline, told me the title came via her husband. ‘He’s an artist and quite poetic and thinks in terms of images, so he took the idea of the Thames tide coming in and out and the lines that are crossed in the book and came up with ‘Tidemark’ which sounded a bit grubby somehow!! Another friend suggested ‘Tideline’.’

Paula Daly, author of Just what Kind of Mother are You? considered Stripped Bare and No Milk Today for her book. In my view, the title she chose has much more direct impact.

Titles often change considerably in translations: My debut psychological thriller, The Evil Beneath, (which I originally called 'Body under the Bridge') became Ressac Mortel ('Deadly Undertow') at the French bookclub, France Loisirs, then Les Noyees de la Tamise ('The Drowned Women of the Thames') with the publisher, Editions les Escales. In Germany, Random House chose Todesdunkel, which translates as 'The Darkness of Death'. I think they all give strong, but slightly different, visual impressions.

Titles can change even between English speaking countries, reflecting cultural differences. This is often a pitfall for the reader who can be fooled into thinking a different title is a new book. Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide in the UK is published as Remembered Death in the US, for example. One, Two, Buckle my Shoe in the UK was turned into The Patriotic Murders (US) - which sounds poles apart.
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo originally had the Swedish title Män som hatar kvinnor - literally meaning, 'Men who Hate Women'. I think changing it to the one we all know was a good move!

This post originally appeared in the Crime Readers' Association when I was Featured Author in March.
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Writers' Notebooks - 'A Junkyard of the Mind'

Coleridge Notebook - British Library
There's a new website from the British Library, Discovering Literature, giving the public a chance to see inside the notebooks of well known authors - appealing to anyone interested in the process of writing.

Writing is a mysterious series of steps. A reader sees the finished product; the glossy book looks neat and polished, but the journey to get there is different for each writer and is often a messy one!

Lawrence Norfolk (on Radio 3's recent radio programme 'Writers and their Notebooks') calls this type of notebook a 'Junkyard of the mind' - a depository for ideas, aspects of the weather, snippets of conversation, names of train stations, graffiti tags, observations, diagrams, sketches of characters and so on. AS Byatt spent around two years working on a book before 'finding' her characters; the notebook was the 'compost' where they gradually emerged. She tried writing a diary but burnt it after two weeks ('too obscene', she says) so her notebooks rarely contain anything personal. She knows posterity may be interested in them, so she sticks to her fictional musings.

Badisha's Notebooks - British Library (for what she calls her 'obsessive scribblings')
David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, uses his notebooks to write letters from his characters on what they think about the book they're in, their views on politics, God etc. He finds their register, use of language and develops their 'voice' this way, getting under their skin - but the material won't appear in the end product.

My Notebook
My own notebooks are transitory; I don't tend to go back to them as they're always attached to a particular novel and once the novel is done, the notebook is defunct. I like a spiral-bound one that lies flat and have one in practically every room of the house, so when I get an idea I can catch it wherever I am. Most ideas come when I've just got into bed or when I'm reading or watching something entirely different on TV! Somehow, by switching to 'not thinking' about my current book, messages pop up from my subconscious, pointing out holes in the plot and 'what ifs?'. The jottings include research I need to do for certain aspects of my stories, plot threads, details, queries about the plot, character traits and so on. I cross through the notes once they're transferred somewhere else - to my research file, main body of writing, novel 'scraps' - the bits I want to add, but don't yet know where.

According to Rachel Foss from the British Library, on-line Blogs and live Twitter feeds are the 'new notebooks'. Authors' websites are becoming a significant literary production - 'The 21st century incarnation of the notebook', she says.

Mark Twain's Notebook - Bancroft Library, California
What are your notebooks like? How do you use them? Are you intrigued by what happens behind the scenes - the hidden backstory - to a novel?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Book Covers with Clout

I've been thinking about book covers this week and the impact they make. We live in a heightened visual world these days, so the cover of a book HAS to grab a reader or else he or she will move on. The cover goes hand in hand with the title, of course, and often reinforces, questions or shows some kind of twist on the title itself.

Here are a few recent and new covers for Psychological Thrillers that are BIG on impact, in my view. I've not read any of them (but they're now on my wish list!), so my judgement, like any browsing reader, is purely based on instant response. What do you think?

Nuala Casey's novel, Summer Lies Bleeding comes out in August 2014. The image tells a story of its own. It instantly says 'city' with the flats in the background. Dawn is breaking and there's no one about. Centre stage is a lonely bench in a park and someone has left a scarf behind. It's the colour of blood and stands out. Questions go racing through my mind straight away. Whose scarf is it? Why did they leave it? What has happened just before this seemingly innocent picture?

Here's what the jacket says:

'Four lives are about to come crashing together...

Devastated by the murder of his sister in Soho seven years ago, Mark Davis travels to London to carry out an act of violence that he believes will avenge her death. PhD student Stella is returning to London with her partner Paula to visit a fertility clinic. But Stella is hiding a secret that could tear their lives apart. Recovering alcoholic Seb has left his wild days behind him. But a chance encounter with a stranger brings back tragic memories and puts his family in serious danger. Kerstin Engel is a brilliant but troubled research analyst. But an unseen enemy lies in wait and threatens to destroy her career and her mind.

As crowds gather in Soho to mark the restaurant launch, a terrifying sequence of events brings these characters together and the last days of summer to a shocking end.' 

The Back Road by Rachel Abbott shows an action shot of imminent danger. There's a woman in the distance on a secluded road late at night, a car heading straight for her. This implies an angry or purposeful driver who isn't about to pull over. The yellow of the headlights is startling and dominates the image, which is full of shadows, telling us it's going to be a dark, chilling read.

The blurb says:

'A girl lies close to death in a dark, deserted lane. A driver drags her body to the side of the road. A shadowy figure hides in the trees, watching and waiting. For Ellie Saunders last night's hit and run on the back road could destroy everything she has. She was out that night, but if she reveals where she was and why, her family will be torn apart. She is living on a knife-edge, knowing that her every move is being observed....'

Out today, Mr Mercedes is a new departure into Psyche Thrillers for Stephen King. I like the grim grey cover - a kind of nightmarish image - with one umbrella standing out from the crowd. It tells me the story is about someone who is going to shake everything up and the title gives us the name of that person, by the matching colours. It's clever. It feels very Stephen King! Here's the jacket blurb:

'A cat-and-mouse suspense thriller featuring a retired homicide detective who's haunted by the few cases he left open, and by one in particular - the pre-dawn slaughter of eight people among hundreds gathered in line for the opening of a jobs fair when the economy was guttering out. Without warning, a lone driver ploughed through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes. The plot is kicked into gear when Bill Hodges receives a letter in the mail, from a man claiming to be the perpetrator. He taunts Hodges with the notion that he will strike again.'

Now that You're Gone by Julie Corbin is out on Friday, 5th June. The words dominate the image and when we look underneath them we see nothing but an expanse of water. The ripples imply that something (or someone, given the title) has gone into the water and isn't coming back. Gone for good. The lone leaf floating on the surface adds a touch of fragility and vulnerability. It's yellow and therefore stands out - indicating in this context, a thorn in someone's side, a sense of unfinished business.

'When the body of Isla’s brother, an ex-Marine and private investigator, is pulled from the River Clyde, she is convinced he was murdered. When the coroner declares Dougie’s died of accidental drowning and rules out foul play, the police are happy to close the case. But Isla has other ideas.

Determined to find out what really happened the night Dougie died, and why he was even in Glasgow, she starts looking into his unsolved cases. What she finds will put her in grave danger and force her to question everything she thought she knew about those closest to her . . .'

I'd love to hear your views about book covers that you've been drawn to. Let me know!
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.