How to Write an Unfinished Novel


Unfinished Novels 350

Not everything that ends up as a novel starts out as a novel. As Stephen King has said, you don’t know what a piece of writing will become until you write it. Might be a short story, might be a novella , or it might be an epic novel. And if it doesn’t go the way you expect, maybe it won’t even get finished.

The concept of the Unfinished Novel is not one I’d considered before – all the books I’ve started have reached completion and been published as planned. Until now. And because I’ve not been in this situation before, I’m not sure what to do about it. See, when I started ‘Ariadne 7’, I knew it was going to be different, and part of the difference was that the title came to me in a dream. Sort of. And because of that odd beginning, I’ve never really had a firm grip on where it was going.Ariadne 7 COVER 150x

Now, before you suggest I might be a victim of writer’s block – don’t even go there! As I’ve said before, I’m not a subscriber to that way of thinking. The novel in question has simply not reached the stage it needs to reach in order to be considered complete. It is imperfect, underdeveloped, flawed. So it will remain unfinished until such time as it is finished. And yes, maybe that day will never come, but I’m sure I have it in me to do something with it. I’m just not sure what.

The aforementioned Mr King is a good example of a successful novelist – he writes novels and they get published and sell millions of copies. But of the fifty-odd tomes currently available, there are at least another ten of the great man’s works that remain unpublished. So it’s not like I have to feel bad about my own shortcomings – if a literary genius like Stevie has problems finishing stuff, I probably shouldn’t worry about it.

The only fly in the fictional ointment, is the fact of the book still being listed as a pre-order item on Smashwords et al. For the moment, I’m thinking along the lines of it maybe being a novella, in which case it may well appear in some form by the end of the year. Until then, Ariadne 7 will remain on Smashwords as a ‘too be published’ book, maybe in December. Or maybe not.

All that remains is to decide which of my other projects to work on instead. Hmm…

Blogging – The Other Way of Writing a Book

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There are two ways of writing a book – the first one is the obvious route: start at the beginning and write until you get to the end. The other way is to write a book that isn’t a book at all – in fact, it’s a blog.

Years ago, we used to occasionally read about some unknown blogger whose weekly posts had attracted the attention of some mega-huge publishing house and suddenly they have a book deal worth several squillion quid. Which is nice. But while that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, the idea prompted a few money-grabbing basturds to punt a means of doing just that (converting blogs into books). The Interweb is full of such helpful people, but while I’m sure those sorts of ‘projects’ fill a few of those literary voids out there, it’s not the sort of thing I have in mind.

And just to be clear, I’m also not talking about folk whose daily diaries of homespun shite might make a nice coffee table tome for grandma. No, I’m talking about making your own blog into a book because it makes sense to do that, not just because it’ll impress the neighbours (which it won’t anyway).

The Watson Letters
Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I started writing a blog calledmany years ago as a bit of fun, and for a long time that’s all it was. But when my original writing partner/co-conspirator moved on, I started wondering how the thing might look in book form. Now, part of the initial problem was that because I hadn’t started out with the idea of it ending up as a book, a lot of the content was just funny stuff, innuendo-based humour, fart gags and comedic literary references etc. It wasn’t story based. The later posts (which I’d written myself) however, did lean more towards telling a tale of sorts and so it made sense to concentrate on those.
The Watson Letters Vol 1 5_25x8_Cream_110 NEW COVER copy
Even so, with The Watson Letters – Volume 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes, there was a lot of editing to be done to knock it into shape and it took considerably longer to do this than I’d originally envisioned. By the time I got to the final version, the word count had dropped from around 30,000 to 23,000 and I wondered if it was even worth the effort to put out such a meagre offering. But then, I’d only ever intended it to be an experiment anyway, so I didn’t put too much of my hard-earned confidence behind it.

Happily, the book is selling and feedback has been positive, so the second volume (as blog posts), is well on the way. The difference with my recent posts, however, is that I’m now focused on the fact that they will end up in book form, so the way I write and develop the storylines is much more in keeping with my general literary ethos, which is to say they’re written with no thought to planning, endings or story arcs, but created with several spoonfuls of spontaneity and such like. And since that’s the way I write anyway, so far it’s not posed any problems.

My approach to the blog means I try to write at least two new posts each week, and with each post being between 500 and 1500 words, it’s a reasonable way to notch up my word count. As it stands, I’m at about 15,500 words for what will be The Watson Letters – Volume 2: Not The 39 Steps. Whether that volume will be followed by a third and fourth etc is anyone’s guess, but I suppose the main reason I started the blog in the first place was to have a bit of fun, and so long as that aspect of it is in place, I’ll continue churning them out.

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to not say

‘Hey, hey, hey – let’s be careful with those blogs, lest they end up on the coffee tables of old women!’

Chateaux Pompadour 350

‘Barking at Winston’ by Barry Stone

Barking at Winston
Barking at Winston

When battered rescue dog Bruce is adopted by a wild and wacky family, he finds his new owners have troubles of their own. As well as sharing several episodes from his own short life, Brucie uses his canine second sight to dig into the truth behind a complex tale of family life through a bunch of very different characters all vying for attention, love and happiness.

Barry Stone writes with a genuine warmth for language and he has a particular talent for portraying family life. I liked the idea of using Brucie as the narrator, but though the story started off well, when the animal revealed a talent for second sight I’m afraid I got a bit lost. Whether this was to do with the plot, or a lack of concentration on my part, I can’t say. Nonetheless, I thought it was neat way of revealing the family’s experiences, utilising a host of different viewpoints and voices to tell the story.

I’ve known Barry since I appeared in one of his stage plays many years ago, and I have to say I don’t think this is his best writing. Even so, I’ll be interested to see where his literary career takes him and what other surprises he has lurking in that inventive mind of his.

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How to Be a Crap Writer

Star Trek Writing 350
A few months ago I started writing reviews of the books I read. This prompted me to look at adding a bit more variety to my reading habits. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to start perusing the sort of books I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole, but rather, those I might previously have only have glanced at and moved on.

Now, not wishing to lumber myself with a pile of unreadable tat to wade through, whenever anyone asks me to consider a review, I always have a peek at the book in question before agreeing to anything. Sadly, a lot of the time, I can’t even get past the first page for the mass of bad grammar, poor spelling, illogical sentence structure and general profusion of utter drivel. Nevertheless, I am taking on literary tomes that are new to me (in style, genre etc), and while I know that at least some of these may not leave me gasping in amazement, I’m okay with that, as even mediocre books can teach us something. (They can, can’t they?)

In casting my literary net further afield (and this particularly applies to the eBook market), I’ve begun to wonder why it is that some folk write so badly. Is it laziness, stupidity or what? I don’t know. But thinking about it prompted a few thoughts on how these people might justify churning out such dross.

So here’s my 12 rules on how not to write a novel, inspired by some of those (sorry) really shit writers:

    1. Always assume your particular writing style is totally unique and utterly compelling.

    2. Your writing will come over as dead clever if you stuff the dialogue with clichés, making your characters sound totally unique and utterly compelling.

    3. Don’t worry if you get writer’s block, it’s a sign you’re breaking new ground.

    4. Re-writing and all that editing stuff – that’s just for people who aren’t very good.

    5. Use loads of adverbs, that way readers who don’t have good imaginations will be able to visualise what’s happening.

    6. Always write what you think will sell well.

    7. Don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar and punctuation – if you’ve got a totally unique and utterly compelling writing style, and the story is okay, readers will overlook a few errors.

    8. Don’t read anything by the writers you really like, cos that’ll just put you off.

    9. Write in a genre you’re not familiar with. In fact, the less you know, the better.

    10. Make your central character just like you.

    11. If you’re new to novel writing, you’ll probably start by creating a mythical/fantasy/magical world of some sort. Be different – come up with original character names such as RthMiiertBogg, Argzipztrg, and FTarttMingerPlural. It doesn’t matter if readers can’t pronounce them, so long as they look interesting.

    12. Finally, before you upload it to Amazon et al, don’t let anyone read your epic tome – they’ll only drag you down with their criticism. Publish and be damned, as some famous author once said.

I’ve always believed you can’t teach anyone to be a good writer – that’s something they have to work out for themselves. A little guidance is great, but I’m pretty certain that you only get to be good by constantly striving to be the best, by being critical, by cutting the dross, by working at it and being a writer.

‘How to Be a Victorian’ by Ruth Goodman

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How to Be a Victorian
5 stars copy

If you’ve ever wondered what life was like during the reign of Queen Victoria, you should either build a time machine, or get your hands on this book. Historian Ruth Goodman charts the Victorian experience from getting up to going to bed, and everything in-between.

Goodman is a historian and TV presenter who has more enthusiasm for her subject than a bunch of kids in a chocolate factory. She specializes in the minutiae of everyday domestic life, finding out exactly how things were done – from the methods and potions used to clean teeth or carry out the weekly wash, to the contents of a labourer’s packed lunch and the difficulties involved in having a bath or avoiding unwanted pregnancies.

Those who’ve seen her TV work, will know how passionate she can be – her distinctive style comes across well in this volume, and her down-to-earth approach mixes humour with a harsh political awareness in a way that engages her readers from page one. What I love about this woman is the way her research is, wherever possible, rooted in her own experience – she’s cleaned her teeth with soot, made her own sanitary wear, spent twelve hours toiling in a field dressed in authentic clothing, and has even resorted to using the ‘dry-brushing’ method of washing herself for weeks on end, just to see if it’s possible to keep odours at bay when hot water is in short supply. (Apparently it is).

From the horrors of child labour and unsafe working conditions, to the introduction of compulsory education and the beginnings of the Women’s Movement, Ruth Goodman conveys just how tough it must have been for all but the wealthiest of Victorian families. Having read her book, I’m still fascinated by the Victorian world, but now I’m not so sure I’d want to live there.

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‘The House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz

House of Silk
The House of Silk: The Bestselling Sherlock Holmes Novel
5 stars copy

Sherlock Holmes is dead and now his ageing companion, Dr Watson, also teeters towards death. With no-one left to answer to, the great detective’s biographer puts pen to paper one last time to document two very different, yet inexplicably connected, mysteries. When Edmund Carstairs turns up at 221B Baker Street, he unfolds a strange tale of ruined artworks, a pair of villainous brothers and a stranger in a flat cap.

Holmes and Watson begin their investigation, but are soon drawn into another far more sinister mystery, where the oddly named House of Silk spreads its dark influence across the city, frustrating the duo at every turn. Following a visit to an opium den, Holmes finds himself accused of murder and thrown into prison, and with a host of distinguished witnesses on the side of the prosecution, it seems that even he cannot avoid the hangman’s noose…

Having long been a fan of the author’s TV work (in particular ‘Foyle’s War’), I was keen to see what he would do with Conan Doyle’s great detective. From the outset, I felt as if I were reading the work of ACD himself – the narrative is so similar to Doyle’s style that at times it felt positively uncanny. As with all good detective stories, the text is littered with clues that (with any luck) the reader won’t fit together until the denouement. In this case, one of those clues was a little too obvious for my taste, but I have to say the aforementioned denouement, when it arrived, was superbly executed and totally unexpected.

Anthony Horowitz captures not only the voice of Dr Watson, but constructs a thoroughly believable and authentic setting for his heroes. I can’t wait to get my hands on his next offering – ‘Moriarty’. The game’s afoot…

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