Saturday, December 28, 2013

Between the Bindings with MJ Webb


I met Martin several months ago on Goodreads.  He was looking for reviewers for his books (The Jake West Trilogy: 1: The Keeper of the Stones2: Warriors of the Heynai and 3: The Estian Alliance) and they sounded right up my ally.  I'm now glad to call him a friend - one of those that you learn a lot from, enjoy talking to and sometimes just want to beat the crap out of (not usually at the same time haha).

When I decided to do this whole authors-giving-advice thing, he was one of the firsts on my list and I'm glad that he decided to accept my offer.

What advice do I have?

First of all let me say that I am honoured to be asked to contribute to your wonderful blog and to find myself in such wonderful company.

I began writing because I wanted to do something for my children; it was as simple as that.  I had no idea if I was any good at it and I was armed only with the vaguest of concepts, as well as the world's worst stubborn streak.  I'm a big child really and just don't like being told that I can't do something ... And many, many people said exactly that.  I was told that I was embarking upon an impossible mission, that I should pen a few short stories before I launched into an epic fantasy novel.

Sorry, but that was the wrong thing to say to me and a red rag to a bull.  So, once I'd decided that "I'd show 'em," the rest was sort of easy.

The most important thing is to ensure that you have a really good story that people will want to read.  I thought I had that so I ploughed onwards, full of enthusiasm and hope.  I made a very loose storyboard which outlined about five chapters at a time and developed the characters which would inhabit my real and fantasy worlds.  Some were easy and they were based on real people: Jack West was my son, Jack, for instance (they share initials) and Princess Zephany was my daughter, Sophie.  Others took a bit more thought but I tried to picture them as if I was watching the movie in front of me, and everything came to me fairly easily after that.

To be honest, I rushed the whole process, as my work and family commitments meant that I had very little spare time.  I began writing almost immediately and soon learnt that, although the storyboard gave me a loose idea of where I was heading, I would invariably ignore it and set out on a different tangent.  Which brings me to my first point, and this for me is the greatest advice: go where the mood takes you.  Don't be too rigid and be prepared to fully explore your own imagination.  I was thrilled and amazed by the ideas that flowed, some of which I can't tell you to this day where they came from.  Sure, it gave me a few headaches for the final book of my trilogy, having to piece it all together and tie up every loose end, but it was a hell of a ride and so much more enjoyable for my lack of inhibitions.

There were obviously days when I did no know what to write (writer's block).  My advice there is to do what I did: sit yourself down and write anything.  The first few pages might be utter rubbish but you can throw those away or edit until your heart's content.  You'll enter the zone at some point, like I did, and that's when you produce your best work.  Don't get too hung up on the mechanics of the whole process, just enjoy it.  If you do, it will surely show in the end product.

Consistency is very important.  Your characters have to be believable and react or talk more or less as you'd expect them to in every situation.  I had difficulty there as some of my characters are fighting inner battles of enormous consequences, which breeds inconsistency, and some are still in their teens, still finding themselves; a point which thankfully most readers/reviewers have picked up on.

I think it's important to read other author's work and look at their styles, as you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't.  It's also vital that you try to edit your work to the highest possible standard, to produce the best book you can before it is shown to anyone other than family/friends/proofreaders/editors, etc.  You only get one shot at most people, including any Literary Agents or Publishers.  If I'm completely honest, I think that's where I went wrong.  I submitted too early.  It would not have made much difference because I could not afford a professional edit but you never know, eh?

If you have a finished product which is ready for publication please be wary of the thousands of sharks who will promise you the world and quite cheerfully take your money.  You can publish for free on sites such as Lulu.com or Createspace if you want hard copies and there are plenty of sites for e-books, so don't be tempted to part with any cash unless you know what you're getting.  The same goes for cover art.  I used a local student who charged me nothing, though I later paid her of my own volition.

How to handle rejection or bad reviews?  They're part of a writer's lot I'm afraid.  Even the greatest of authors receive bad press.  Numerous Literary Agents and Publishers rejected JK Rowling's first novel, so you're in good company.  There are those out there who will give you bad reviews just for the hell of it, but thankfully these are few and most people give a genuine appraisal of your work.  It's their opinion and they are welcome to express it having taken the time to read your novel.  Take any constructive criticism on board and try to learn from it.  Never contact a reviewer.  Even if you have the best of intentions this can easily go south.  Just be thankful that the review has generated more publicity and interest in your book/s.  There will be peaks and troughs, highs and lows, it's the name of the game.

To sum up, if you're writing to make money or to become famous/receive adulation, you're setting yourself up for a fall.  However, if you have the right attitude and can deal with success equally as well as failure, my advice is to go for it!  I've had a wonderful four years or so since writing my books, I really have.  I've been on several radio stations, appeared in numerous newspapers, given book talks/conducted signings ... It's been a blast.  I've learnt so much about myself and others, and I think the whole experience has brought me even closer to my family, if that were possible.  I'm able to read my books with my children now and the thought that somebody somewhere will be opening my book/s as presents on Christmas Day is awesome, truly mind-boggling.  I've also had people get in touch on Facebook, etc because of the books, many of whom I  haven't seen for twenty years.  I have renewed lots of old friendships.  Every single review I receive still gives me goosebumps.  I just love it and I'm so grateful.  Reading this back, I think I'm a walking cliche but it's all true, I swear.

Above all, I'd say to any would-be authors that you have to remember there's a whole world of support out there for you if you just reach out and ask.  The internet has brought the experts right into your living room.  I remember Gail Z Martin helping me when I first began.

So, wright away, right now!  Write simply because you love to write ... And the very best of luck to you.

Thank you for that advice, Martin.  Very helpful.  The bit about the characters, especially - one of the things I commented on while reading your trilogy was the confusion between the people from this land and the other land, each not understanding even little things like communication, words, slang.  Some people forget about those little things that make it seem more real.  It was nice to see your characters explaining themselves.

I have more advice from more authors coming over the next few months so until next time ...  

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