Everyone’s got a favourite word, right? Surely people who work with words for a living should have a few they keep special, like a tradesman’s tools or an artists’ brushes?
The joy of writing is that you have an almost limitless, inexhaustible pile of words to choose from. Even if you run out of “everyday” literary and spoken words, you can run to the esoteric worlds of science, engineering and specialist professions to find some more.
You can borrow from foreign living languages, and ancient dead ones. You can even make up your own, as Shakespeare managed to do with astonishing success.
But every now and again you stumble across a word that is so perfect, it makes you love it. A word that is so beautifully suited to its function or meaning, that you can’t help but applaud its audacity for existing.
Therefore, I submit to you Exhibit A:
floccinaucinihilipilification. n. the estimation of something as worthless, nothing or trivial.
A word that is known to be one of the longest in the English language, made from four different Latin root words, all of which mean exactly the same thing. Nothing.
It is the word that sums up most of our national problems in the most apposite way – a lot of words hammered together when there is a much simpler alternative, an absurdly time-consuming and complex pronunciation; and in the end it doesn’t add up to any value at all.
At one heady point in the Noughties, I broke into the Top 500 reviewers on Amazon! Can you credit it?
Admittedly most of the reviews were for non-fiction books and video games, but a creditable number were for fiction – usually the bestsellers du jour or the kinds of memoirs that I liked to read at the time.
Reviewing fiction seems to be more sensitive these days, possibly because so many people are doing it. Any writer from whatever genre either side of the fiction/non-fiction divide, knows that a string of mediocre reviews can choke a book before it’s had time to breathe.
I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of why people review books a certain way, and why reviews vary widely for the same basic text, but I’d like to share the model I use to help me grade a book, given that the standard model appears to be the “Five Star”.
I mentally split the book into five loose categories:
Language and style
How it made me feel
I then give it a mark out of ten in each category. This gives me a final mark out of fifty, then divide by ten and round up or down to the nearest star.
Wow, right? All well and good, you might say – but what a complete loser you must be to try to quantify everything? When does a book ever score 10/10 in every category? How will anything ever get five stars?
Of course, this is a stupid way of trying to write a review. Because of item #5.
Look at #5. How did the book make me feel? A ten there will all but guarantee a five-star rating from me, even if the other categories are sub-optimal.
Because in the end, you can have a methodology, and try to quantify everything carefully, and be as fair as you possibly can.
But I remember that in the end – it isn’t fair. It’s completely subjective, and the heart can overrule the head any time it pleases.
So you’ve written your first book. Congratulations! It’s a feat in itself. And the part you thought was the hardest.
Then comes the part you possibly didn’t consider. You begin to review what you’ve written in your first draft. You leave it to cure for a bit, then tweak it, rewrite parts, craft it, edit it some more, and maybe pay a few quid to a professional to give it that final polish.
Then you probably pass it around family and friends, and everyone tells you how great it is, and how great you are. You separate a couple of people you know will read it with more purpose than your mum might (unless your mum IS that person!) You absorb the feedback, and make more adventurous changes. Perhaps the finished article is a significantly different work to the original first draft that you were so proud of. And from your initial feedback among the twenty or so first readers, it IS something to be proud of.
Armed with that praise, you begin to seek a wider audience, that acid test of your writing and crafting skills. You may pass your manuscript around agents or publishers, believing that each letter is the gateway to success. Every little nibble on the line that you trawl before the industry is the heart-stopping chink in the door.
But the rejections begin to pile up, and it preys on your confidence. Soon you are struggling to believe in the very thing that drove you into each day with a spring in your step and dreams of new freedom. Worst of all – perhaps you begin to think that this writing malarkey was a waste of everyone’s time, including, most of all, your own.
Then thank goodness for self-publishing. Because getting your book out there on Kindle is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t lead to mega-sales and financial security, but it does get your hard-fought artistic triumph out in the wider marketplace.
And that is where the reviews begin to trickle in.
I’m still on the foothills of creative writing, having produced just one novel so far (another is a written first draft, but more on that another day!) and I can barely convey the extreme relief I felt when independent reviews began to come in for my book Irex. They don’t have to be five stars, nor even four (I would draw the line at three!) but simply being read and acknowledged, especially by other authors, is a wonderful thing for an indie.
More than that, the huge sense of achievement that I get when someone not only enjoys the book but “gets” it – that literally breathes life back into my endeavours.
I recently had an review from an independent author, Terry Tyler, which did exactly that. Terry Tyler Blog I can’t credit her with superior knowledge, as I don’t really know her other than on Twitter, but she “got it”. It made everything right again.
So I would re-iterate yet again what really makes the lifeblood of indie writing – (and yes, we’d all like to be millionaires and make passive monthly incomes of five figures, but that’s not what makes writing work for me.) It’s the reviews. It’s when you realise that your writing works, and people are getting your messages.
So please support your indie colleagues; write, read and review – if you enjoyed it, of course!
The other day, I worked out that in the past 20 years or so, I’ve visited 58 different countries on six continents. I’ve seen some amazing sights, visited some of the most iconic locations on earth, and had a great time doing it. Best of all, I was being paid a lot of money to do it!
It’s been two years since I last got paid to travel, so I haven’t been very far since then. But today I had the opportunity to visit a part of my own area that I’d never been before to visit a friend where they work.
It was a beautiful area. It’s still winter and pretty cold, but the sun was out and the landscape had that uniquely English look, especially with the ruins of a 15th century monastery in the foreground.
It just reminded me that the world is vast, mysterious and beautiful, and invites us to explore it; but some of the best places are right on our doorstep.
My new novel ‘Voyager’ will be released in early 2017. It crosses several genres, combining elements of science fact, science fiction, military/police thriller and fantasy.
What would happen if NASA’s elderly and far-distant probe Voyager 1 began sending anomalous signals back to Earth? Could it be a glitch? Could it be a hoax? What if it were real? How would our world powers react? Would humanity unite or simply fragment if its ancient extraterrestrial overlords were to return?
‘Voyager’ is a thrilling take on this earth-shattering eventuality, known only to a handful of ordinary people: Callie Woolf, a NASA project scientist; Matt Ramprakash, a British airline pilot with a shady past; and Brad Barnes, an experienced but conflicted FBI agent. Their involvement takes them on frantic investigations in L.A. and New York, faced by a mysterious but deadly foe, as this unprecedented new reality threatens to disrupt and irrevocably change the very existence of humanity on Earth.
‘Voyager’ will be available in print and e-book from February 2017. Updates and previews (for subscribers!) will be right here on my blog throughout January 2017!
As soon as I saw the teaser trailer for Rogue One, I knew I would be going to see it soon after its release. As an unashamed Star Wars nut since my childhood, I have always felt the excitement of the next release, no matter how Georged it has been.
Yet I somehow avoided the pre-launch hype for Rogue One. Not intentionally, I managed to miss the previews, trailers, interviews, spoilers and marketing before I took my seat in the cinema with the whole family on Christmas Eve, and incredibly, in the marketing-dominated world of big studio film consumption, none of us had any preconceptions beyond the original trailer. It was the first “pure” Star Wars experience I’d had since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980!
I can’t tell you how very wholesome it felt to watch a Star Wars film without any idea of the characters, plot or content. It was a pure experience in a very saturated film franchise; like meeting someone you have known all your life for the first time all over again.
The film will have been out for just a couple of weeks by the time you read this, so I won’t offer any spoilers – but I would urge anyone to try out the next instalment of a well-worn trilogy, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel or Harry Potter from a blank perspective, devoid of any preconceptions or expectations; the feeling of discovery is a wonderful thing not to be missed.