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ORIGINS, On Location – Bradgate Park

As a follow-up to my previous post on Elvaston Castle, I’d like to introduce you to another of the key locations featured in my first novel, ORIGINS – and my favourite place on this planet: Bradgate Park (situated on the edge of the Charnwood Forest, in the heart of rural Leicestershire). Whilst writing ORIGINS, I spent countless hours roaming the park’s pathways and slopes, lost in thought: fretting over character traits and motives; pulling apart and restructuring chapters; wrestling with plot directions and twists … in search of inspiration. And it never once failed to deliver.

Below are images of some of the stunning features of the park as they appear in my book, and – to put them in context – a few relevant quotes lifted from its pages.

Bradgate Park

‘[Bradgate Park] covered about one and a half square miles and was made up of large areas of grass, heath, and bracken, mixed with rocky outcrops and several small woods surrounded by dry stone walls.’


‘All year round, it was home to a large herd of deer.’

Bradgate House

‘Towards the centre of the park were the ruins of Bradgate House.’


‘And, running along the edge closest to the village was a small, tree-lined stream.’


‘During the warmer months, [as children] Mark and his friends had climbed the trees and the rocks, paddled in the stream, and, when they were sure the park warden wasn’t around, scaled the dry stone walls and played in the woods.’


‘[Kate had] also spent a lot of time at the edge of a stagnant pond near the centre of the park – trying to catch frogs, or fishing out frogspawn and newts. Paul had hated the smell of the festering water almost as much as he’d hated the creatures that lived in it.’


‘Yeah, the bracken is really taking over,’ he replied. ‘They beat it back every summer, but it always grows again.’

The Old John Folly

‘[On the display screen inside the Moorish Temple, Elvaston Castle] she could clearly make out several large clumps of trees scattered across its surface, and the multitude of interlinked pathways that connected them. The paths crossed the park in all directions, carving up the lush green blanket of heath and bracken into dozens of irregular swatches. As the camera continued to zoom in on the park’s upper left-hand corner, most of the trees slipped away to the southeast. Kate saw that the view was now descending towards the rock-strewn hill to the right of a small copse of oak trees. At its peak was a tiny circular fortress: the Old John Folly – its flat, turreted roof, now targeted by a searing point of red light. The camera eventually came to a smooth stop several metres above the miniature stone castle. And as she and Jas stared down at the little folly, the remaining button emerged from the display – its inscription backlit in blue. The temptation was too great: Jas pressed it. In response, the symbol on the button dimmed, changed shape, and then lit up again – this time in red. Nothing else happened. After several seconds, Jas was about to return to the camera controls and take a look inside the folly when he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. Kate had seen it too. They both turned, just in time to see a large rectangular section of the wall to their left begin to dissolve. The stonework and part of the boarded up window were becoming translucent. A gloomy light started to shine through – far weaker than the bright morning sunlight falling on the Temple and the surrounding garden. A moment later, they were staring through an open doorway into a small circular room.’

The Old John Folly

I recommend you see the little stone fortress as Kate, Mark, and Jas did later on in my story – just before sunrise. But preferably on a cold, bleak winter’s morning – long before the irrepressible bracken begins its annual siege.

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ORIGINS, On Location – Elvaston Castle

My first novel, ORIGINS (a science fiction thriller), is set, in part, in the East Midlands – a region of the United Kingdom very close to my heart, and my home since birth. Whilst the characters described in my book are fictional, the locations are real. In this post, I would like to share with you one of those locations: the beautiful 200 acre estate of Elvaston Castle (situated approximately four miles southeast of Derby). The castle, its grounds, and its Grade II listed gardens – all of which I visit often – feature heavily in ORIGINS, and were the original inspiration for several of its key story elements. Below are some images of the estate’s buildings and grounds as they appear in my book, and – to put them in context – a few relevant quotes lifted from its pages.

Elvaston Castle

‘It saddened Kate that the house was still in such a state of disrepair. From a distance, it upheld the illusion of the majestic stately home it had once been. Close-up though, you could see that weathering and neglect was ravaging the building like a malignant cancer.’


‘Decades of paint flaked away from its doors and window frames like layers of dead skin. Their glass panes, its eyes on the world, were fogged over with dust and grime – blinded by so many cataracts. Those on the ground floor were boarded up from the inside: tired eyelids, forever shut. The roof leaked in several places where tiles had slipped or broken and had not been replaced. Inside, the disease raged on unchecked. Large sections of the upper floor ceilings had been brought down by water retention. Mould and rot consumed the house from within.’


‘Kate followed Jas out of the office block and into the walled courtyard. Passing beneath the stone archway in the left hand wall …’


‘… they picked up a narrow pathway sandwiched between the privet maze on the left and the stone churchyard wall on the right. A hundred yards on, the path cut through a tunnel of branches formed by the trees that now flanked it on both sides.’

The Alhambra Garden

‘After another thirty yards they entered a narrow rectangular clearing, surrounded by more trees: the Alhambra Garden. At its furthest edge sat the Moorish Temple.’


‘The mountains and hills of Snowdonia and the Pennines became larger, more defined, and then fell away at the edges of the screen as the view zoomed in on the East Midlands. Dark patches grew and broke apart as population centres resolved into cities, towns, and sprawling suburbs. The countryside suddenly became a patchwork of greens, browns, and ambers – stitched together with the deep blue threads of its rivers. He began to recognise some of the area’s landmarks: to the right of the screen, he could clearly make out Sawley Marina, and the Attenborough Nature Reserve; to the left, Pride Park football stadium; and at the centre, growing larger by the second, the grounds of Elvaston Castle. At first, all he could see was a cluster of trees surrounding several grassed areas and a small lake. But then the trees parted, revealing the estate’s individual gardens and the pathways that connected them. As the descent began to slow, the house itself slid into sharp focus – the intricate maze of privet at its front now clearly visible, along with the office block and courtyard to the side. A moment later, Jas found himself staring at the roof of the Moorish Temple – accurately reproduced in all its decaying splendour.’

Note: image shows the Moorish Temple before (at time of writing) and after reroofing and partial restoration.


‘After setting the surveillance kit aside again, together they hauled the heavy generator up the stone ramp to the garden’s second tier.’

Moorish Temple - Rear Doorway

‘Ten minutes later, having drilled another hole, this time through the Temple’s bricked up rear doorway, Jas eased the scope through it into folly’s upper room.’

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To Swear or Not to Swear – That is the F*****g Question

Having been brought up as a God-fearing Christian, when I began writing my first novel I was faced with a bit of a dilemma: should I allow my fictional characters to swear? I was born in the 1970s, when swearing was far less publically acceptable than it is today, and grew up with family and friends who, on the whole, didn’t swear. Personally, I think swearing is crude, offensive, and in most cases totally unjustifiable. It is used to emphasise anger, frustration, hatred, and a host of other vile human emotions. It often conveys arrogance, ignorance, or – when used in place of an informed counter-argument – simple laziness. And, in all cases, I believe it defiles our beautiful spoken language. That said, I am ashamed to admit that, these days, on occasion, even I find myself swearing: when someone cuts me up while driving, when I bump my head or stub my toe, or when my insomniac neighbour turns on his TV in the middle of the night and wakes me up. I hate myself for doing it. But, no matter how hard I try not to do it, the odd swear word still manages to slip out. Swearing has, over the past few years, somehow become almost second nature to me – a new habit that’s proving very hard to break.

With my writing I obviously have far greater control over what I say or, perhaps more importantly, don’t say. And from this notion my dilemma stemmed. I knew that my family and my non-swearing friends were apt to forgive the odd subconscious profanity, born out of frustration or stress, but would they be so willing to overlook a thoughtfully-written manuscript crammed full of them? I very much doubted it. As most of them had, from the outset, expressed interest in reading my work, I was keen not to write anything that might offend them. However, as a writer whose story was set in the present, in the real world, I wanted my characters to feel as real as possible. And, like it or not, today most real people swear. I was in a bit of a pickle. For several days, I fretted over what to do: should I permit just a couple of my characters to swear – maybe just the antagonists; should I restrict their use of profanities to mild curse words only; or should I cut offensive language from their dialogue altogether? In the end, I realised that my choice was simple: I could either be true to my writing (and to my readers) and keep my writing real, or not write at all. And since the latter was not an option I could live with, I chose to let my characters swear as offensively and as often as they so desired – and braced myself for the cries of disgust and disappointment.

I am happy to report that, as yet, I haven’t been disowned by any of my family or friends – it turns out that they are far more understanding that I gave them credit for. And it was, in fact, my aunt, who has, to the best of my knowledge, never uttered a single swear word in her entire life, who finally helped me fully vindicate my decision to allow my fictional characters to swear. She won’t watch a film or a TV programme if it contains even the mildest of profanities – but she was dead set on reading my book. Realising she couldn’t possibly read it as is, we came to what we both considered an agreeable compromise – and I gave her a copy with all of the offensive words blanked out. A couple of chapters in, she phoned me to tell me that she was enjoying reading my book, but that she could still tell what each of the swear words was supposed to be. And there you have it: even someone who never uses bad language is familiar with it, because today the average man or woman in the street, on the bus, at work, on TV, on film etc. swears … and, therefore, so should the average man or woman on the pages of today’s novels.

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Three Books EVERY Author Should Own and Read

Prior to penning my first novel, most of my dabblings with the written word fell squarely under the banner of ‘Technical Authoring’: IT-based ‘how-to’ guides, scientific papers and reports, and a 300-page PhD thesis. So, before starting work on my first creative writing project, I decided it couldn’t hurt to brush up a little on my general writing and English language skills. The following three books served this purpose admirably, and still prove invaluable to me as I continue on my literary journey. As an author, aspiring author, or someone who simply enjoys experimenting with our beautiful written language, you owe it to yourself to read them too.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
As a huge fan of Stephen King’s work, this book was an obvious starting point for me. It is both an autobiographical account of Stephen’s incredible writing career, and an extremely useful resource of tips and advice for the would-be wordsmith. On Writing also introduced me to the next book on this list.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
A little gem of a book. It is only pocket-sized, and just over 100 pages, but deals with the essentials of writing clear, concise English – and filtering out all unnecessary padding/waffle.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves (The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation) by Lynne Truss
Teaches the art of  punctuation – in an entertaining and easy to read style, with lots of witty examples of how poor punctuation can twist the meaning of words and stifle the author’s creative voice.

And two other books that I also found extremely useful:

The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O’Byrne
Gives an excellent insight into the workings of the British police force and the British criminal justice system. A must-read for anyone wishing to incorporate crime or police related plotlines into their UK-based novels.

English Grammar for Dummies (UK Edition) by Lesley J. Ward and Geraldine Woods
An easy to read, comprehensive technical guide to the written English language. A great resource for anyone wishing to brush up on their English grammar, without making their brain hurt too much.

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GUEST POST: Q & A Session Between an Author and Lead Character – by Neil Newton

It’s been a while now since I finished writing One Time on Earth –  the story of a young man’s obsession with the first moon landing, and enough water has passed beneath the bridge for me to sit down with the lead character, Henry Lothian, to chew the fat over some of the things I put him through in that story. So, we shared a quiet moment and had a Q & A session where we revisited some of the things on and off those pages. Here’s what happened.

HL: You didn’t make me out as the most likeable character in the world. What was the reason for that?

NN: Well that’s how you are. Your background’s grim, you live in a rundown part of town, the slums are being cleared, your parents have their attention elsewhere, especially your father, you go to a Grammar school, which is out of kilter with where you’ve grown up and your world is on the verge of being torn apart; so to have you as a squeaky clean kid would have made the story twee. And I didn’t want that.

HL: Am I you?

NN: Hell, no; although, I can see the similarities. When I was very young, younger than you are in the story, I lived in a rundown part of Leeds, so we share a similar background in that respect. I was awestruck by Apollo as well, but so was everyone else my age. You have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Apollo and space stuff. I had nothing like that. I was just swept up by it because of the adventure.

HL: Whose future do you think we got in the end?

NN: I think I know what you mean by that.

HL: Do you?

NN: Hmm. Well, in the story you think that there’s a golden future coming because of Apollo, but there’s one character, one you’re often at loggerheads with, who thinks otherwise and claims he’s seen the real one – says it’s going to be, ‘grubby and pointless, without hope or direction,’ or something like that anyhow. So, which future did we get? It is a good question. We certainly didn’t get the future you predicted, Henry; although I do live in hope.

HL: So why did you portray my father as such an arse?

NN: I don’t think he is, deep down. I think his back’s to the wall and he’s trying to save his pub while houses in the neighbourhood are torn down and all hell is breaking loose everywhere else. He’s under pressure; it’s not pretty and he’s taking things badly. He represents the male view of the world back then. Plus I needed as many ways as possible to put you through the mangle.

HL: Thanks for that.

NN: But that’s the writer’s job. There has to be conflict. The reader has to associate with the characters in the story, certainly with the central character. They’ll never engage if everything is hunky dory. The readers want to know if the main character in the world you’ve created is going to overcome their difficulties.

HL: So, do all the characters I come across represent the views that people had back then?

NN: Too right, they do. You and one or two others represent the mind-set Apollo brought – that notion of inspiration, that idea that there’s nothing we can’t achieve while we’re able to mount expeditions to the moon, your sister flies a flag for the peace movement; social changes at the time and just about everything else in the world are given a kicking by your old feller. And Charlie, well he’s the story between the lines, really – the message that oh my God what have we squandered here.

HL: And my grandfather?

NN: Well, he’s the mellow and open-minded one; as grandparents often are. He’s a place where you find refuge, and also another way of ultimately bringing you more grief.

HL: What did you want to achieve with the story?

NN: I wanted to recreate that world. We forget what that world was like. It was nothing like the one I inhabit now and people don’t remember how remarkable that time was. For several months it was as though we were living in some kind of a dream as this event drew near. Today people often say, ‘Oh we can land a man on the moon, but we can’t get the trains to run on time.’ And that really annoys me; the truth is we can’t land a man on the moon today, in theory we know how to do it, but in reality we are incapable of mounting such an expedition. Forty–odd years ago we were able to do so, but not anymore.

HL: Sounds like you’re getting pretty steamed up there about this.

NN: Yes, I’m starting to sound like Charlie in the story. But it does annoy me when people speak in such a way. It riles me that they don’t even know we can’t land men on the moon today and that we’ve squandered such ability.

HL: And do you think that’s a dangerous thing?

NN: Well, you know the answer to that, Henry.

HL: Playing fast and loose with extinction?

NN: That’s almost like a line you would have used yourself in the book. Don’t you say something like, ‘Disperse or die, it’s the most obvious thing ever.’

HL: I did say that. I told that bird when we were sitting on that bench.

NN. Girl.

HL: Oh yeah, right. So, the landscape, does that represent anything in the story? You have me and the boys walking through plenty of it.

NN: Well I think you have to write about what you know about and I knew that terrain you often find yourself in, but if there’s any symbolism to the landscape, I think it represents your isolation, or at least it’s used to intensify your sense of isolation. More ways to make your life more difficult and to engage the reader.

HL: Have you ever been back to the landscape?

NN: Many times.

HL: And what do you think about it now?

NN: It’s funny I was in the Dales not long back, in Malhamdale and I must admit I did get a wistful feeling and I thought, ‘Yeah, Henry and the boys, they knocked about around here for a while. Went up that canyon, sat by that lake, yomped up that hill by those outcrops. Kind of nostalgic, it is.

HL: One last question.

NN: Go on then.

HL: Would you ever put me through the mangle again?

NN: Do you mean in another novel?

HL: Yes.

NN: Well, never say ‘never.’ It’s possible we could link up again, but not for a while. And I don’t think it would be back in 1969. And I don’t think you will have become an astronaut. That would be too obvious, but it would be interesting to have another adventure and maybe find out what happened to Henry Lothian.

Neil Newton is the author of One Time on Earth – the story of a young man’s obsession with the first moon landing. Click here to visit Neil’s blog.

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Writing Should Excite the Writer – Not Just the Reader

An Indie Author’s Approach to the Novel Writing Process

Shortly after I started writing my first novel, I watched the BBC’s Nick Higham interview a well-known author on one of its News channel’s regular ‘Meet the Author’ slots. I remember feeling excited, because this particular author was about as big as they got: rich, famous, decades of international bestsellers already under his belt – several of which had been made into great movies … but, more importantly, because he wrote the type of books I love to read (and write): thrillers. So, I sat on the edge of my seat, hanging on his every word – eager to find out what made such a successful author tick, what drove him, what compelled him to write; hoping for a glimpse of the passion he poured into his art; hoping to be inspired … only, instead, to be shocked and deeply saddened by what he had to say: he did it for the money. Worse still, he gave the distinct impression that he didn’t even enjoy doing it – at least not any more. And I think I understand why: before penning a single word of his next bestseller, he spent months meticulously researching its every topic, fleshing out every character, mapping out every twist and turn of its plot – all in minute detail – and then, he spent day after day after day simply regurgitating his story, from start to finish, until he had the entire thing down on paper. Now where’s the fun in that?

The authoring process, for me, is a much less structured, and infinitely more enjoyable, experience. When I started ‘planning’ my first novel, ORIGINS, all I had to work with was a basic premise, and the bare bones of a plot: a rough outline for the book’s opening chapter, a vague idea for a bleak, apocalyptic ending – and a couple more for some of the bits in-between.

My initial plot development involved what I can best describe as a couple of weeks of daydreaming: allowing my mind to wander aimlessly through countless settings and scenarios, until eventually stumbling upon the ones that would launch my story along the right path – befriending a handful of lost souls I met along the way and roping them into becoming its main characters.

With my book’s opening scenes freshly fabricated in my mind, it was time to smooth and polish them with a little research. The settings for those scenes were places very familiar to me, places I visited often, places I loved (well, they do say, ‘write what you know’). So they demanded hardly any research at all. The topics covered in them, however, were an entirely different matter. I have a scientific background: I used to be a Research Chemist. Two of my book’s main characters, Mark and Kate, were, at this stage, also scientists (again, no coincidence), but occupied disciplines about which I knew very little: genetics and astrophysics. Tackling genetics first, I spent well over a month giving myself a good grounding in the subject, by studying a popular genetics text I picked up from a local bookstore. Basic genetics mastered, I then threw myself into astrophysics – and soon realised that the groundbreaking discovery, in the field of deep space telemetry, that I was about to credit Kate with, was completely unfeasible. So she quickly changed career paths – and became the Estate Manager of Elvaston Castle (a local stately home) instead. Initial research done; it was time to start writing …

My material for the opening scenes – supplemented by a little on-the-fly research, and the enlistment of a few minor characters – happily saw me through the first seven or eight chapters. After that, I eagerly watched the rest of my story slowly unfold through the eyes of its main characters – thinking and planning just far enough ahead so as not to write myself (or them) into a corner. And, once again, the ‘thinking and planning’ mostly involved lots of daydreaming – and, on more than one occasion, some actual dreaming. Whenever I found myself stuck for ideas, I drove out to Bradgate Park (my favourite quiet, local beauty spot – which, of course, also features in my book) for a bit of fresh air and exercise to clear my mind. And after an hour or so walking the park’s steep, rugged paths, the new ideas I sought invariably came to me.

As I was drawn deeper and deeper into my story, and became increasingly attached to the characters living it, I found myself faced with a huge dilemma: the bleak, apocalyptic ending I had planned for all of them – how could I, in all good conscience, put them through that?  The simple answer was: I couldn’t. So I changed it. One of the great things about not pre-plotting a story in its entirety, is that – just as in real life – its future remains unwritten … and can therefore, quite easily, be re-written.

With a new ending now fixed firmly in my sights, the rest of the story pretty much wrote itself. However, before penning its final few chapters, I broke with protocol and took some time out to plan them ‘properly’. I concede: there can be a time and a place for meticulous plot development – and, for me, this was it. The closing scenes of my book were rather complex: comprising a number of time-specific events and action sequences, and bringing together multiple storylines – and I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave any loose ends untied. As throughout the rest of my story though, its characters’ reactions to those events remained fluid and unfixed.

My approach to writing may seem a little unorthodox to some, and would, no doubt, appear crude and amateurish to the bestselling author whose interview I watched so intently, a few years ago, as I embarked upon my own literary journey. But it works for me – and for one very important reason: not knowing the outcome of a story, to me, keeps that story alive … it grips me and holds my interest in it – as if I’m actually participating in it, rather than just writing it. Writing should excite and enthral the writer as well as the reader. On the day writing becomes a chore for me – just another way of making money – I will quit doing it … I sincerely hope that day never comes.

The above article was originally published as a guest post on Neil Newton’s excellent blog. Neil is the author of One Time on Earth – the story of a young man’s obsession with the first moon landing. Click here to visit Neil’s blog.

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GUEST POST: Stop Criticizing Me! – by Richard Stephenson

Okay, we need to talk. Gather round my fellow indies, this is a safe place. A happy place. Relax and take a deep breath. Pull up a chair, some stale coffee is on the back table but the doughnuts are fresh.

Whether you are new to the self-publishing biz like me or have come to accept rejection and criticism like a pro after years or decades of writing, let’s be honest with each other – criticism hurts. If you’re like me, your writing is a very intimate part of your soul. You open up your very being and put pieces of yourself on the page. In the simplest terms, you make yourself very vulnerable.

I knew going into this whole thing that Collapse would not be everyone’s cup of tea. People’s tastes are particular. I know my tastes are particular. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, however, I can’t stand the books. I found the first one much too difficult to follow along with the dozens of characters. I tried my best to read it but had to stop about a quarter of the way into it because I just couldn’t get into it. Martin is obviously a successful and talented writer, but I’m not a fan.

Do you remember your first negative review? I know I do. The funny thing about it – it was a three star review. The reviewer was not kind, claiming that my writing style was horrible and that my dystopian thriller was aimed at twelve year olds. Not sure how a book with graphic violence and language, a racist skinhead, and the victim of Richard Dupree’s crime was material aimed at twelve year olds. That particular review bothered me a lot. It raised my blood pressure and upset my stomach enough to warrant some pepto. Then another negative review, another three star mind you, came just minutes behind the first one. This review made the claim that Dupree’s escape from the courthouse was lifted completely out of Silence of the Lambs. This upset me even more because I couldn’t see the parallel at all. Dupree didn’t cut someone’s face off and wear it as a mask or dress up a corpse in his own clothing to confuse his captors. I chomped on some more pepto tablets and realized I had a serious problem to contend with. If three star reviews bothered me so badly, how on earth was I going to cope with one and two star reviews?

Then I got my first two star review. My stomach started churning and I could feel my heart pounding. My hand was actually shaking when I clicked the mouse to see what horrible bashing was in store. Was a grown man about to cry?

It didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I had nothing but respect for the reviewer’s opinion. Collapse was just not his cup of tea. He was expecting a different type of book. He thought the book would be geared more towards survival fiction in the same vein as James Wesley Rawles Patriots. He also wasn’t fond of the main characters. I totally get that. To each his own.

As more time has gone by, I’ve collected seven two-star reviews and four one-star reviews to tarnish my combined fifty-nine four and five star reviews. Most of them didn’t bother me at all, they made claims that they didn’t enjoy the story or the format of multiple storylines was too confusing. Not a big deal. Two in particular freely admitted that they gave up after a few chapters and stuck me with a one-star review. Really? You read less than 10% of the book and think that your very limited knowledge qualifies you to leave a review? Gimme a break! This is just my own personal gripe, if you think that you can give up on a book very early on and leave a review, that’s your right to do so. I just find it to be unfair and in poor taste. If I give up on a book a few chapters in, I simply move on to something else and wouldn’t dream of leaving a review.

Over at GoodReads I got two reviews that really offended me. The two reviewers could not separate the storyteller from the story. The first reviewer directly accused me of being anti-Islam. Not the story, not one of the characters, me personally – “The author doesn’t seem to like Islam very much…” The other reviewer stated “…the writing of a man that not only has major issues with the current US Government but has little faith in the populous to fix the problem of corruption.” Let’s be clear, I wrote a piece of fiction. Actually, let’s take it a step further and point out that I wrote a piece of dystopian fiction. Clearly this reviewer doesn’t understand the definition of dystopian. Let’s take one final step further and point out that I actually work for the US government in my full-time job.

On the last page of Collapse, I included a list of contact information so that readers could interact with me via Twitter, Facebook, this blog, and by email. I understood that this decision would expose me to both glowing praise and harsh criticism. A gentlemen sent me an email all but condemning me to hell for the offensive language in the book and was shocked that I let my wife read it. (I’m guessing he believes that a woman’s delicate sensibilities couldn’t handle an F-bomb.)

Did I write this blog post to garner your sympathy? Am I fishing for your complements to boost my ego? Not at all, far from it. Well then, Mr. Stephenson, what is your point you may ask? I hope that by sharing my experience that other indies will learn the simple fact that you are going to get a lot of negative criticism. That fact might be obvious to everyone, you might even be waiting on your first negative review at this very moment confident in the fact that you are prepared for it. I thought I was prepared and ready, but I was not ready for criticism that just defied logic and reason. I was prepared for criticism about a great many things. Towards the end of the book I wrote a love scene that I knew would offend some people, I was prepared for that. I wrote several scenes containing graphic violence that I knew would offend some, I was prepared for that as well. Some portions of the book might lead you to believe I’m a hardcore liberal that hates conservatives and wishes to offend them (I’m not, by the way). Much of Collapse requires the reader to suspend belief as a lot of fiction does, I was prepared for people to not being able to make that leap.

What I was not prepared for was criticism that, in my opinion, came out of left field and just flat confused me. I had to fight the urge to leave comments on those reviews and engage the reviewer in debate, explaining my side of things and hopefully change their mind. I decided against it because in my experience, once someone has made up their mind about something, it is often an exercise in futility to make them agree with you. It often makes the situation far worse and in my opinion, is just not worth the time.

My advice, prepare yourself for anything. Get ready for criticism of all types -constructive criticism that is tactful and polite, criticism that makes you ask yourself “Did this person actually read my book?” Be ready for criticism that is harsh, rude, offensive, and even says your writing style is terrible.

Even better, if you can resist the temptation, don’t even click on the ones and twos.

Richard Stephenson is the author of best selling dystopian thriller, Collapse.

Click here to view Richard’s blog.

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Writing: An Unhealthy Obsession

Early December, 2009, I lost my job through redundancy. Instead of considering the impact this was going to have on my life, or worrying about how I would get another job in the middle of a recession, my first thought was: ‘at last – some time to write my book’. Having lived with the seeds of a plot for a science fiction thriller rattling around in my head for well over a decade, I was really looking forward to planting those seeds and watching them grow. Little else mattered.

In the run-up to Christmas, I took time out to relax, unwind, and to allow my book’s basic plot to flesh out a little and its main characters to introduce themselves to me. For the first two months of the New Year, I then thoroughly researched some of the key topics and locations that would feature in the book. And finally, at the start of the last week of February, I began writing my first novel, ORIGINS.

Initially, I only told immediate family and close friends that I was writing a book – partly to put an end to questions about job searching and applications, but mostly because I was afraid that, despite my best intentions, I might not be cut out for creative writing, and didn’t want to spread the word too far afield in case my efforts amounted to little more than a few pages of unintelligible gibberish. Fortunately, after penning my first tentative paragraph, my fears were allayed, and I knew that I at least had the ability within me to get the story in my head down on paper. But, better still, I knew that no matter how long it took me I would finish my book – because, despite having completed just a couple of hundred words, I was well and truly hooked. And so began my obsession with writing.

Writing, for me, is a disjointed process. Prior to starting ORIGINS, I’d had a very stereotypical image of authors: sitting in front of their typewriters or computers, tapping away at the keys and, almost magically, producing a perfect, unbroken string of prose and dialogue on the page or screen. That’s not me. I write a sentence or two, go back and change a few words. Write another, change a few more words. Then, maybe, I’ll chop the sentences up and reorder them, or even delete one entirely … I find myself continually drafting and redrafting until I’m one hundred percent happy with the way a paragraph reads, and then I move on to the next one. Obsessive, yes; unconventional, perhaps – but hey, it works for me.

Treating my writing as a full-time job, on average, I clocked up eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week. Most days I only churned out a couple of pages, some days as many as six – but whatever the day’s page count, they were pages I was happy with and proud to have written.

With only a basic, provisional plot to work from, I let my story carve out its own path, and, little by little, watched it unfold through the eyes of its main characters. And as those characters developed – and I learned more about their lives, their loves, and their fates – I grew increasingly attached to them. Whether I was writing about them, or not, I found myself thinking about them: wondering what joys or perils tomorrow would bestow upon them – and worrying about how they would cope. They became my constant companions … my new extended family … my close friends. So much so that when, reluctantly (for the sake of the plot), I was forced to kill off one of them, their loss, to me, felt every bit as painful and distressing as a real bereavement.

Eight months in, I reached the arbitrary target length, for my book, that I’d set myself when I first began writing it: 300 pages … and my story was still only half-told. I was ecstatic. I’d obsessed about that target (far more than I cared to admit) – worrying I’d run out of ideas or words long before reaching it, and be forced to downsize the novel I so wanted to write, to a novella or, worse still, a short story. Now though, at last, I could stop fretting over how my book would physically stack up to the others on my bookshelves, and spend some quality time with my fictional friends. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Seven months (and 326 pages) later, with the first draft of ORIGINS finally complete, I bid my new friends a sad, fond farewell, and we went our separate ways. But my obsession with them, and their adventures, was far from done – editing and proofreading allowed me to relive the amazing time we’d spent together, over and over again.

If I’d considered writing an obsessive pursuit, I found editing and proofreading doubly so. Despite having initially been one hundred percent happy with each paragraph I’d penned, on re-reading them I now spotted numerous typos I’d previously missed, plot inconsistencies I would need to rectify, sloppy dialogue that required tightening up … my manuscript was far from polished. So I set about obsessively polishing it – eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week – trying to make it shine as best I could.

After months of editing, and no fewer than three cover-to-cover proofreads, I had to force myself to stop – afraid that if I didn’t, not only was I going to lose what was left of my sanity, but my book was never going to get published. So, I printed out a copy of my ‘completed’ manuscript and proudly handed it over to a good friend (and avid reader or all things sci-fi) for one final, independent proofread. On its return – many minor edits and corrected typos later – I decided, albeit reluctantly, that my book was now ready for release … only then to be faced with two more obsessive tasks: formatting the book for Kindle, and trying to market it – but those are, perhaps, topics for another post.

If I’m truly honest, writing my first novel caused me to doubt myself and my abilities far more than most of the challenges I’ve faced in my life to date. And I’m certain that, at times, the obsessive nature of the authoring process threatened both my mental and physical wellbeing – I lost over ten pounds whilst working on ORIGINS, and I was far from overweight to begin with. However, writing my book has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. It gave me something new and exciting to focus my energy and efforts on, following my redundancy. It introduced me to new realities, new possibilities, and new friends. And it is the single most enjoyable thing I have ever done that, in some people’s eyes, would be classified as ‘work’. I am immensely proud of ORIGINS – and will remain so, even if it only ever sells a handful of copies.

It saddens me that my fictional friends are no longer with me. But I’m writing my second novel now, featuring a couple of the minor characters from ORIGINS. So I have some new friends – and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them a little better.

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